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‘Scared for my life’: Woman travels to AU for a complex brain surgery

Published: May. 20, 2022 at 5:26 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - “I was just scared for my life. I didn’t know what was going to happen,” said Wendy Johnson, recovering from brainstem surgery

The Georgia woman was in tears after a surgery only performed at a handful of hospitals saved her life.

She drove all the way from Albany to find out what was wrong after she started experiencing symptoms like a whole side of her face going numb and starting to droop.

It turns out she needed a complex brain surgery. Only a handful of surgeons can perform it, including one at Augusta University Health.

These days, Johnson is a pretty popular gal.

She stays pretty busy from the hospital bed with all the Facetimes and phone calls.

“I got the media people here. I’m trying to interview right now,” she said.

Rightfully so, because had she not ended up here, she could have ended paralyzed.

“I said, the left of my mouth is becoming numb. And she stayed on me. ‘You need to go to the hospital; you need to go to the hospital’. I kept putting it off, and then it moved from my mouth to my head,” said Johnson.

Her doctor in Albany sent her to AU Health. They knew whatever was going on would need complex surgery. Dr. Martin Rutkowski suspected it was a benign tumor outside the brain stem.

“In this case it was actually a lesion or a mass inside the brain stem itself. I was pretty surprised to see that, and at that point, the operation would be that much more complicated,” said Rutkowski, a neurosurgeon at AU Health.

Surgery on the brain stem is avoided at all costs unless absolutely necessary. That brain stem controls all the information sent from the body to the mind. Johnson lost her mom years ago.

“She’s always with me,” said Johnson.

She knew she didn’t want her daughter to be without a mom.

Rutkowski said: “If it’s not caught early, it can really cause incapacitating disability.”

So, she went under, and oddly there was a blessing from her hemorrhaging. The internal bleeding led her surgeon straight to the source of the problem.

“The blood had almost formed a little shield around the cavernous malfunction itself and kind of made for a very nice way to dissect it without damaging her normal functions,” he said.

Even though Johnson had to miss her daughter’s 11th birthday and watch her elementary school graduation from a phone, she’s here. Here for her daughter. And here for many more years.

Her doctor says anytime that you have a sudden onset of systems like numbness, paired with other severe pain, it’s always a good idea to get checked out immediately.

Johnson finally gets to see her daughter for the first time since surgery on Saturday.

“I just wanna say thank you, a big thank you to everyone,” said Johnson.

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