Surgeons remove grapefruit-sized tumor from man’s brain; implant 3D computer generated prosthetic skull piece
Houston Methodist surgeons joined forces to remove a giant brain tumor from a Louisiana patient, ultimately crafting a new prosthetic skull piece that “fits like a glove.”
Seventy-year-old Chris DeHart’s medical journey took nine surgeries and more than 2 ½ years, culminating Oct. 18 when the last set of sutures in the scalp finally came out.
The atypical tumor, a meningioma, hijacked the frontal lobe of DeHart’s brain, extended into his sinuses and eye sockets and had begun snaking down into his nostrils when doctors near his home in Morgan City, LA, told the couple they “needed to find the best brain surgeon in the country” and would need a team of doctors – including an ear, nose and throat surgeon and plastic surgeon – to tackle the massive tumor.
Neurosurgeon Dr. David Baskin, otolaryngology – head and neck surgeon Dr. Mas Takashima and plastic surgeon Dr. Michael Klebuc were ready for the challenge, collaborating to find the right technology and teamwork to solve the complicated problem. DeHart and his wife of 48 years – Gail – put their faith and trust in what became their “dream team.”
“We used technology not available five or 10 years ago,” says Baskin. Virtual reality and surgical theater – technology that allowed them to virtually fly through the brain and see where everything was located – helped them plan surgeries ahead of time. They used a 3D-printed scaffold to design the piece of missing skull removed to get at the tumor – it fit like a glove, Baskin says.
“And at Houston Methodist, we are blessed to have world experts from different specialties working together,” adds Baskin. “More than 50 people were involved in the planning and surgeries that took place.”
Removing the tumor from both the brain and the nose was only part of the surgeons’ challenge – they had to create a stable and secure barrier between the brain and the nose to avoid complications like meningitis. They filled up the space taken up by the tumor by borrowing a segment of expendable muscle and its nutrient blood vessel from DeHart’s thigh, placed it in the base of the skull to separate the nose from the brain, then attached it to blood vessels in front of the ear.
“It’s a transplant, essentially, but it’s your own material, so you don’t have to take medication to prevent rejection,” Klebuc explains.
The DeHarts say they are “blessed beyond words” to get their lives back, spend more time with their grandchildren and enjoy their new camper. But it’s also a bittersweet moment to say goodbye to their surgeons and their teams, many of whom have become like family throughout their journey.
“This has been a very good experience,” says DeHart, joking that he didn’t set out to become a medical specimen. “All of y’all did a great job,” he told his three surgeons moments before Klebuc removed the final sutures from DeHart’s head. “I knew we were in the right hands and the right place. I hope this can someday help someone else.”
The surgeons say DeHart’s case required multiple specialties all pulling in the same direction to succeed. “The collaborative nature of our environment at Houston Methodist allows us to push the boundaries of what we can do,” Takashima says.