PALS In The Olean Times Herald
Mon, Mar 5 2012 06:14 PM
Pilot John Michaels is a new PALS pilot and a mission he flew was the subject of an article published in the Olean Times Herald.
By Dee Bunk-Hatch Olean Times Herald
OLEAN — At 16 years old, Chris Chesebro has had two brain surgeries.
He considers himself lucky to have had so few.
Chris has a hereditary condition called a chiari malformation, characterized by a structural defect in the cerebellum in which the cerebellum and brain stem are pushed downward by a smaller-than-normal lower rear of the skull.
“I had headaches,” Chris told the Times Herald of his symptoms. Although the headaches began when he was about 5, they became debilitating when he hit puberty.
In addition to the headaches, which left him unable to go to school or behave like a normal teenager, Chris suffered from short-term memory loss and dizziness, although he did not know the cause until approximately two years ago.
A trip to the emergency room during an unusually bad headache led to a CT scan, and the eventual chiari malformation diagnosis.
The condition is so rare, many doctors miss it and misdiagnose patients, Chris’ mother, Christie Chesebro, said. She noted that only 5 percent of the world’s population suffer from the symptomatic form of the condition.
In 2010, Chris underwent a surgery to decompress the area by removing several vertebrae, allowing the displaced portion of his cerebellum to be moved back into its proper position.
This surgery provided only temporary relief — an instability in his neck allowed the cerebellum to drop back into the incorrect position.
The family then pursued help from the Chiari Institute in Great Neck; the Chiari Institute, founded in 2001, specializes in research and treatment of this condition and others like it.
Chris was told he would need a second surgery, this time to both move his brain back into place and to fuse his neck to increase its stability.
“It was a tough decision,” Mrs. Chesebro said.
The family left the decision up to Chris, and he said at first he was hesitant, remembering the pain following the first procedure.
Ultimately, Chris decided to undergo the surgery following some wise words from his doctor at the Chiari Institute.
“He said ‘you’ll feel bad for a couple of months after but you’ll feel better for the rest of your life’,” Chris told the Times Herald.
“He just wanted to start feeling better,” said Chris’ father, Brad Chesebro.
The seven-hour surgery on Feb. 16 went perfectly, and Chris was up and walking by the next day. After five days in the hospital and another week nearby at the Ronald McDonald House — about which the family had rave reviews — he was cleared to go home.
Getting home was an ordeal in itself, as the possibility of whiplash and rough roads between Long Island and Olean made driving impossible so soon after a cranial fusion, and commercial flight would prove too taxing so soon after such a major surgery.
The Chesebro family learned about an organization known as Patient Airlift Services, or PALS, which provides free air transport for medical patients or humanitarian causes. Although PALS normally requires advanced notice to arrange a flight, the group quickly found a pilot willing to take Chris from Great Neck to the Olean Municipal Airport.
“Things were able to work out really, really well for us,” Mr. Chesebro said.
The cordial pilot, John Michaels of Glens Falls, and the plane’s depressurized cabin put Chris at ease; he napped on the journey home, his parents said.
Now home, Chris is enduring a six-week hiatus from school and three months without long car travel or strenuous physical activity. Despite his initial anxiety, Chris said he is glad he underwent the second surgery.
“I’m doing better every day,” he said.
Although his neck remains sore from the procedure, his headaches have subsided, and he is optimistic that he will continue to improve. Physical therapy three times a week is also proving beneficial.
The surgery will not eliminate Chris’ previous symptoms, but it will prevent the formation of others associated with his chiari malformation. Chris said he is thankful he did not have other symptoms — such as muscle weakness, numbness and vision problems — which many of the other individuals he met at the Chiari Institute suffered from.
Many had undergone multiple surgeries, and the Chesebro family remarked at how thankful they were that Chris’ condition should be corrected after only two.
The community support has been overwhelming, Mr. Chesebro said.
“A number of the area churches got together to help us out financially,” he noted.
Olean High School, where Chris is a 10th-grader, has accommodated his medical restrictions by providing a tutor each day, and the Medical Loan Closet supplied the family with a hospital bed for use during his recovery.
“What a blessing to have,” Mr. Chesebro said of the support. “We’re just thankful for the support of the churches and the community and the love and support.”
“Even Chris said it was amazing how God arranged things,” Mrs. Chesebro said.
Chris is expected to make a full recovery and return to normal activity by summer. Although he will be unable to play high-contact sports such as football or wrestling, he will be permitted to play his sport of preference: tennis.
“We’re certainly thankful the family is back home now. We’re just glad he’s feeling better,” Mr. Chesebro concluded.
(Contact reporter Dee Bunk-Hatch at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter, @OTHDee)
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