While most kindergarteners were enjoying their time off from school in March 2013, Jackson Parker faced two unexpected brain surgeries in the span of a week.
Jackson’s problems started at age 4 with intermittent headaches thought to be migraines. By age 5, he was experiencing vision problems.
“The eye doctors suggested he would need glasses within a year and would be near-sighted like my husband and me,” says his mother, Anica. “We were told it was likely the end of his issues.”
But then Jackson’s parents noticed he had a slightly stiff neck. Jackson was unable to turn his neck without rotating his shoulders. At his 6-year-old wellness checkup, Anica told Jackson’s pedia- trician about the new developments. Thanks to the pediatrician’s immediate follow-through, the next day Jackson’s eye doctors were able to confirm intracranial swelling evidenced by slight swelling in his optic nerve, which hadn’t been present in previous eye exams.
The Parkers were advised to head to the emergency room at Phoenix Children’s Hospital (PCH) where an MRI uncovered a tumor, known as a craniopharyngioma, attached to Jackson’s pituitary stalk. The tumor had developed a cyst that was blocking drainage of spinal cord fluid, which explained the swelling and headaches.
Ruth Bristol, MD, a pediatric neurosurgeon at Barrow Neurological Institute at PCH, drained the fluid from the growth within days of the diagnosis and performed a biopsy that confirmed it was benign. Initially, the Parkers were told Jackson would need radiation to shrink the rest of the mass but not additional surgery. A review of the case by the tumor board, however, led doctors to recommend another procedure to remove the tumor.
Anica and her husband, Joseph, both lawyers, wanted to make certain they had exhausted all options. They asked Dr. Bristol if she were in their position who she would choose to do the follow-up surgery.
“She said Dr. Spetzler,” says Joseph. “I had never heard of him but quickly learned about his reputation.”
The Parkers decided that if one expert neurosurgeon was good, two would be better, especially since Dr. Bristol had trained under Dr. Spetzler. So they asked her if Dr. Spetzler could be part of the surgical team. The next Monday, a week after the first surgery to drain the cyst, Drs. Spetzler and Bristol removed the entire tumor. Jackson spent the next few weeks at PCH recovering.
Jackson, who turned 7 in March, is being monitored for endocrine changes, but today his vision is 20/20, the headaches are gone, and there is no sign of tumor regrowth. He plays soccer, baseball and practices taekwondo, and he was looking forward to a spring break free of hospitals.
While the Parkers only met Dr. Spetzler minutes before Jackson’s second surgery at St. Joseph's, they are humbled that their son was the recipient of a unique collaboration of the best medical minds available in their own backyard. As a gesture of their gratitude, the Parkers made a contribution to Barrow Neurological Foundation to advance research and teaching efforts at Barrow.
“We are fortunate to have been ben- eficiaries of Dr. Spetzler’s efforts, both in the form of Dr. Bristol during the first surgery, as well as directly during the second surgery,” says Joseph. “Words cannot adequately express the magnitude of our gratitude.”