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Surviving brain tumor

Patient Donell Hall

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Patient Donell Hall on the job 6 months after brain tumor surgery

Imagine having one of the worst migraine headaches of your life while you’re driving to work, pulling over to call 911 and then waking up to find yourself in a hospital, awaiting emergency brain tumor surgery.

That was what happened to Donell Hall in November 2014.

Since the age of 14, the TV/video/broadcast producer had recurrent massive headaches. Every headache rendered him temporarily unable to speak clearly, which he thought was a side effect of a bad migraine.

But on that day in November everything changed. As Hall was being prepared for surgery to remove what turned out to be a brain tumor, he met Dr. Shawn Hervey-Jumper and some of the other Functional Wellness team members. 

Functional Wellness is part of the U-M Brain Tumor Program. The Functional Wellness Initiative is first-of-its-kind program: bringing together both the latest therapies to improve survival and the comprehensive portfolio of rehabilitation services that patients need to maximize the quality of their lives.

During a patient’s first clinic visit, for example, he or she will see a multidisciplinary team of clinicians from euro-oncology, physical medicine, clinical neuropsychological, speech pathology and neurosurgery. And they will all collaborate on an all-inclusive, individualized care plan.

Brain tumor teamwork

“The team was fantastic,” Hall says. “They spent a lot of time preparing me for post-surgery to make sure I would be able to talk like I did before the surgery. If I can’t speak quickly and have people understand me, my job is over.”

During that preparation, the team talked with Hall about how he could retain his language skills after surgery. They also anticipated having to use radiation and chemotherapy to shrink the remaining tumor that could not be removed without risking long-term speech loss.

After surgery, Hall worked regularly with a speech pathologist to improve his language skills and his memory.

He visits the Functional Wellness Program about once a month and returned to work this past summer.

Good quality of life

“My language is coming back,” Hall, now 30, says. “I still forget a lot. But I’ve got most of it back. I feel good.”

About 90 percent of brain tumor patients must cope with one or more significant functional, cognitive or psychological impairments resulting from their tumors.

Dr. Hervey-Jumper says, “In the past, separate evaluations were needed from each medical discipline before arriving at a treatment strategy. That meant burdening patients with multiple appointments and making it more challenging for providers to coordinate their efforts. Here at Michigan, we bring the experts together for the patient right from the start.

“Our goal is to help people maximize the quality of their lives.”

Next steps

Neurosciences logoThe University of Michigan’s multidisciplinary neuroscience team is made up of more than 70 nationally recognized neurologists and neurosurgeons. Leading the way in brain, spine and nervous system care for close to 100 years, patients have access to services that can be found at only a handful of places as well as cutting-edge treatments with the latest research. Neurology and Neurosurgery at the University of Michigan Health System have been recognized by U.S. News & World Report numerous times for excellence in patient care.