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The Art of Healing

The Art of Healing

Diagnosed with a large brain tumor, artist Sally Myers has made a full recovery surrounded by expert neurosurgical and rehabilitative staff at Winchester Medical Center

In the summer of 2017, Sally Myers, an artist who lives and works on a large farm near Winchester, noticed she was growing unusually quiet. It took her a while to realize it, she says, because she often works in solitude in her studio, creating dramatic steel and clay sculptures inspired by nature. Eventually, changes in her behavior also began to worry her friends.

She remembers attending a Shenandoah Arts Council meeting, for example, and never saying a word. “Other times, I’d sit down at home and could not decide what to do for hours at a time,” she recalls. “I wasn’t alarmed, but a friend was worried and suggested I might have had a stroke.”

She made an appointment with her general practitioner, who ordered an MRI. This scan revealed Myers had a large tumor—5 centimeters long—in her brain. Diagnosed as a meningioma, the tumor was putting pressure on her brain, so Myers was referred to Valley Health neurosurgeon Lee A. Selznick, MD. He scheduled her for a craniotomy—a procedure in which a section of the skull bone is removed in order to access the brain—and removed the tumor.

“Sally’s tumor was on the left side of her brain, which affects language function, and in the frontal lobe, which affects executive function,” Dr. Selznick says. “Fortunately, the symptoms she was experiencing were reversible because this part of the brain tends to be more forgiving than other areas. It’s likely that this tumor had been growing for many, many years. A tumor this size would have caused serious problems much earlier if it had been located in another area of the brain.”

The craniotomy, which Dr. Selznick performed at Winchester Medical Center (WMC) in November of 2017, was a four-hour procedure that involved a straight-line incision along Myers’ hairline; this minimized both scarring and the amount of hair that needed to be shaved. “We used delicate instruments and an advanced technique called neuronavigation to remove the tumor,” Dr. Selznick explains. This minimally invasive procedure uses a computerized model of the brain created from the MRI results.

“Neuronavigation allows me to see exactly where I’m working, so I am targeting precise locations,” Dr. Selznick says. “It’s like GPS for the brain.”

Post-surgery, Myers was moved to the intensive care unit and discharged from the hospital three days later. She credits the entire care team at WMC with making her experience such a positive one. And her physical, mental and psychological recovery began almost immediately. “Meeting her following the surgery was like meeting her for the first time,” Dr. Selznick notes. “Her personality was back and she was smiling and joking, completely changed.”

Myers, however, was worried she might have lost her ability to create art, so she was happy that her work with staff from Valley Health Rehabilitation Services helped her regain cognitive and creative skill and, eventually, get back to her studio. Expert care from speech language pathologist Emily Beckley and occupational therapist Patrice Vossler was key to this recovery.

Because Myers was having difficulty summoning the right words when she tried to speak, Beckley helped her with word-finding exercises and offered other tools that improved communication. “Sally was aware of her deficits and was very motivated to recover,” Beckley says. “We kept encouraging her, and she bounced back very quickly.”

Myers was also having trouble following instructions, so Vossler gave her projects, such as making simple recipes, to help her pace herself. One of the most rewarding moments was when Vossler asked Myers to create a drawing, and, with a bit of difficulty, Myers produced a rendering of a bird. “Sally always said the most important thing was her art,” Vossler says, “and when she brought in that drawing, I knew that the art center of her brain had not been affected.”

Myers was also worried that she’d lost muscle tone — of particular concern because the work required to create her sculptures is physically demanding — so Vossler suggested she enroll in Next Steps, a Valley Health Wellness & Fitness program offered for people recovering from surgery and other debilitating physical problems. Staff there performed a client assessment, developed a training schedule, and provided guidance and encouragement for Myers.

Within a matter of weeks, Myers was back in her studio, producing the sculptures that give her so much pleasure. She recently created two dramatic works — one featuring birds, the other fish — for an exhibition at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley. “She’s made a fantastic recovery,” says Dr. Selznick. “She has returned to her original self!”

Thanks to Valley Health’s circle of expert and compassionate caregivers, Myers has received the gift of good health. “I’m just so happy to be well, and I feel ready to carry on with a whole new series of sculptures,” Myers says. “I’m so grateful for the loving help I received. I feel like I’ve been given a great gift.”

To learn more about Valley Health’s neurological services, visit valleyhealthlink.com/neuro.