Healthy You - Every Day

Chef’s Successful Brain Surgery Keeps Life Delicious

Ramon Medina was awake for part of the operation to remove tumor

Banquet chef Ramon Medina has one gear – on, so when he started experiencing short bouts of confusion and dizziness, he brushed it off as a byproduct of a high stress job and kept going.

He was working in Teterboro, N.J. for a company that operated around the clock to supply meals for private jets. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, he got fewer hours at the New Jersey job and landed a part-time job at a Lehigh Valley area country club to help make ends meet.

Medina, 54, of Lower Macungie Township, eventually landed a full-time job at the local country club and was able to quit his New Jersey job. That ended the long commutes, but the confusion and dizziness continued. While behind the wheel at a stop light or stop sign, he would sometimes lose concentration and couldn’t hear his wife Sandra ask him what was wrong. In one instance, Sandra had to grab the steering wheel.

Brain tumor diagnosis and surgery plan

Medina would soon learn stress had nothing to do with his symptoms.

He decided to visit his Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN) primary care practice, LVPG Internal Medicine–1230 Cedar Crest, where he saw Mark Harvey, CRNP. The ensuing tests included a CT scan and later an MRI that showed a mass in his brain. After that, a full body scan showed another mass, on his right kidney. “They (growths) were both there, but they were not connected,” Medina says.

Then came the decision on which tumor to tackle first. Originally, the plan was for the kidney tumor to come first, but surgeon schedules didn’t allow for that, and the brain surgery was first. But this brain surgery would be unlike most.

Did You Know?

An estimated 700,000 Americans are living with a primary brain tumor. (Source: National Brain Tumor Society)

Medina would be awake for part of the operation as neurosurgeon Walter Jean, MD, Chief, Division of Neurological Surgery for Lehigh Valley Fleming Neuroscience Institute, worked to remove the tumor in the region of Medina’s brain responsible for speech. Medina had to be awake for the part of the operation within his brain so Jean could be sure the tumor removal wasn’t affecting Medina’s speech.

“This type of surgery occurs only when the speech area of the brain is involved. Speech is the one thing we can’t test (when a patient is under general anesthesia),” Jean says.

Jean meshed Medina’s brain images with virtual reality software to create a three-dimensional road map for the surgery. That model included a virtual “no-fly zone” in the specific area that could affect Medina’s speech. Jean was able to see a virtual border around that part of Medina’s brain during surgery, much like you see a virtual first-down line while watching pro football on TV.

“For a lot of people, it might freak them out to have brain surgery. It just never hit me that way. It never hit me to be scared.” - Ramon Medina

How is awake brain surgery possible?

How could Medina be awake while Jean was operating on his brain? Unlike other parts of your body, there are no pain nerve endings in the brain and so Medina would not sense pain while doctors were removing the tumor. He would be under anesthesia as doctors began the operation, but then allowed to regain enough consciousness to be able to respond to questions about pictures or words on flash cards as tumor removal progressed.

“I thought, ‘Wow, that will be fun,’ ” Medina says. “I was looking forward to it.”

Medina is a take life as it comes kind of person. “I never felt I was dying. I felt like do what you have to do and then I can make it back to work,” he says. “For a lot of people, it might freak them out to have brain surgery. It just never hit me that way. It never hit me to be scared.” A man of faith, Medina says he believes “God takes care of me and takes care of me to this day.”

His brain surgery took place on May 18, 2022. Medina says he has no memory of the hours-long operation. He was discharged home after five days in the hospital. Surgery to remove his right kidney occurred in early June 2022.

Learn more

Virtual Reality for Brain Surgery

New LVHN Neurosurgeon brings innovative technology to the Lehigh Valley

Grateful hearts and a positive attitude

No follow-up treatment was needed for the kidney cancer, but doctors were not able to get the entire tumor in his brain, so Medina continues with radiation and chemotherapy and is nearly done. He’s disease free and is working his way back to a full-time work schedule at the country club. It’s full steam ahead.

“I come from Mexican blood,” Medina says. “I don’t know any other way. I don’t have gears. I have the on and off switch, and that’s it.”

The Medinas have high praise for everyone at LVHN. “The support we got from everyone there at the hospital was wonderful,” Sandra Medina says. “From the people who deliver the food trays to the top doctors, they were all just wonderful. We can’t thank them enough.”

Jean is a member at the country club where Medina works and when he’s there for a meal, he makes it a point to check in with Medina. “He’s doing great,” Jean says.

Ramon Medina says he hopes his story will give someone who finds themselves in his position hope and inspiration that they too can get through it with a good result. “It’s about staying positive,” Medina says. “That’s half the battle.”

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