Team’s Fast Action Saves Mother and Baby
“There’s good news and bad news,” said the AAMC Emergency Department physician, “which would you like to hear first?”
“The bad,” responded Rajeshuwari “Raj” Williams, whose primary care physician, Dr. Patricia Czapp, had sent her to the Emergency Department (ED) for an MRI to try to determine the cause of her severe headaches, nausea and unstable gait.
“You have a large tumor at the base of your brain,” the doctor said. After a pause, Mrs. Williams said, “So what’s the good news?”
Mrs. Williams, 38, had been suffering horrible headaches for several months. Numerous medications weren’t working; the headaches were becoming more severe. The day before she went to the Emergency Department, she had begun feeling dizzy and was vomiting. Dr. Czapp sent her to the ED where she received the news that would alter her life forever. She and her husband, William, an architect with Alt Breeding Schwarz Architects in Annapolis, had been trying in vain for a second pregnancy after the birth of their first son four years ago.
“That day was March 13, 2003,” she said. Getting both of those pieces of information was more than the couple could take. The pregnancy took a back seat to dealing with the first bit of news. Mrs. Williams said, “I’m one of those people who gets second, maybe third opinions before I make decisions. But the neurosurgeon on call, Dr. Timothy Burke, showed us the tumor on a computer screen. He said there really wasn’t time for second and third opinions.”
Dr. Burke told the Williamses that he couldn’t identify the tumor from the MRI, but based on its location and size, he was alarmed. “There was already pressure on the brain stem. It wasn’t a question of doing nothing, it needed removing immediately,” he said. To do nothing would kill her.
Mrs. Williams was admitted to the hospital that day. She spent the next day consulting with obstetrician Miriam Yudkoff, M.D., and the anesthesiologist. Surgery was not an option but a necessity. “I was only a few weeks pregnant,” said Mrs. Williams, “and I was told that the greatest danger to the unborn child would be the anesthesia. Just before the surgery, I told the anesthesiologist, Dr. Sohail Zaidi, I was expecting him to give me as little anesthesia as possible.”
When Dr. Burke performed the six-hour surgery, he was relieved to find the tumor was a hemangioblastoma, a non-malignant, but extremely vascular tumor about the size of a ping-pong ball. “I was able to remove it completely,” he said. “We were concerned that the tumor was an ependynoma. Those can be malignant and may require radiation treatment, which would have meant the loss of the baby.”
After the first night, she recovered quickly. “I was walking the next day, and home two days later. In fact, I was back at work just five weeks after that,” she said. Apart from Dr. Burke, Mrs. Williams thanks her numerous friends in Annapolis who offered prayers in churches, synagogues, a mosque, and a Hindu temple while also visiting her daily and helping with chores.
And on November 13, 2003, Devan Thomas Williams was born, a healthy baby boy.
Mrs. Williams credits Dr. Burke with saving her life. “He was focused and confident, answering all our questions? and we had a lot of them. He is great!” she said. She also realized how skilled he was when she saw how close the tumor was to her brain stem and spinal cord.
Mrs. Williams’ advice to others—though she hopes no one goes through what she did—is this: “Don’t ignore problems with your health. Listen to your body and take care of yourself. Having great friends and prayers helps as well.”