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May 09, 2023

Arnett neurosurgery team provides relief amidst uncertainty

IU Health Arnett Hospital

Arnett neurosurgery team provides relief amidst uncertainty

During yoga, Deanna Brown could not maintain her balance. Her vision was wavering. She had to lean against a wall to get dressed.

Was this an ear infection?

A trip to the doctor did not provide answers. She was told there was no reason to be concerned. Yet her symptoms continued. She was often dizzy and had double vision — bad enough for her to stop driving.

Advocating for herself, Brown started calling neurology offices for an appointment. She was able to get an appointment with Chun Chu, MD, PhD at IU Health Arnett Neurology. With no clear diagnosis, he ordered an MRI out of an abundance of caution.

A serious diagnosis

Brown had that MRI on a Friday afternoon. On Monday, she received a call from the neurosurgery office of Garrett Jackson, MD, and nurse practitioner Sarah Roth asking her to come in.

Brown knew something was up.

A second MRI revealed a tumor in her brain.

Brown was concerned about her upcoming sojourn to India, a trip where she leads a group of women to meet with other women — to share their lives, their stories and work on projects for the local villages. A trip that was canceled in 2020. Jackson and Roth both agreed she might be able to go as the tumor seemed to be slow growing.

The next week, plans abruptly changed. Brown had what was suspected to be a schwannoma, pressing on the brain stem and there appeared to be an irregularity. Brown’s symptoms had increased; she now experienced constant double vision and dizziness.

She learned she had a vagus schwannoma, an extremely rare, benign tumor that arises from the vagus nerve — the longest cranial nerve that controls involuntary processes such as the vocal cords.

Arnett team provides comfort in the midst of uncertainty

“The appointments with Dr. Jackson and Sarah were extremely helpful in understanding, assessing and making decisions about my treatment,” says Brown. “His communication was clear yet calming. He provided direction on what he wanted me to do and not do while waiting for surgery. It was tremendously relieving.”

Jackson referred Brown to a specialist in Indianapolis, a neurological surgeon who had been his mentor.

Her recovery has been quick, except for her voice, which is still hoarse. Her vision issues and dizziness are gone. She hopes to be driving again soon. In the meantime, she has been relying on her network of friends and her husband, Brian Harley, pictured above with Brown.

“Wisdom comes from an experience like this,” says Brown.

Some of the tumor remains, because removing all of it could have robbed her of her voice. A voice she uses to speak at national conferences and cultural exchanges.

A trip to India is scheduled for January 2024.

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