Most brain surgeons have dealt with an acoustic neuroma before, but this large tumor was in an especially tricky spot: completely alongside the brainstem and cranial nerves. Dr. Thomas Ridder began operating on the 27-year-old at 7:30 a.m. and quickly realized this was going to take a while. By midafternoon, he called in Dr. Sean McKisic, and the two surgeons began alternating two-hour shifts. As one surgeon peered through a microscope and worked in a tight space with his hands raised, the other watched and offered guidance. “The tumor was stuck onto the brainstem similar to spiderwebs, so you have to tediously remove it because you can’t pull or yank on the brainstem,” Ridder says. “If you’re not very careful, you can really injure the brainstem, which can have devastating consequences or deficits for a person.”
“You have to go millimeter by millimeter,” McKisic says. “We had to be meticulous. The tumor didn’t have a capsule of any kind, like a rind on an orange or even a grape skin to let you know where it ends and the brainstem begins.”
The duo worked through the night. In the morning, ENT surgeon Dr. Cameron Shaw spent several hours drilling into the auditory canal so Ridder and McKisic could remove the rest of the tumor. Thirty hours after it started, the surgery was complete.
As for the patient, Ridder says, “He’s doing great overall with slowly improving facial weakness on the left; I saw him yesterday.” And he notes the parallel of their lives. “We both have two young kids about the same age. Through the whole surgery, I was constantly thinking about how important it is for him to be with his kids.”
Both surgeons call the surgery satisfying and deflect credit to their medical team and to each other. “I think Sean McKisic is the embodiment of this award,” Ridder says, highlighting McKisic’s background in Air Force Pararescue, the elite combat medics trained to rescue people in any condition.
“I like fixing things, working with my hands; I always have,” McKisic says. “It’s a privilege to help patients with very serious issues relating to the brain and spine.”
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