STANTON — Sharilee Sprowls, “Charli,” to her friends, is hoping an upcoming surgery will end the debilitating headaches that have plagued her daily for the past seven years.
More than just headaches, really, the painful attacks are so severe that all Charli can do when she’s having one is remain in a darkened bedroom; any other activity makes the pain unbearable.
It has taken years for specialists to determine the underlying cause of her headaches: a Skittle-sized mass — possibly cancerous — located near her pineal gland on the underside of her brain. Identifying that mass has not been a speedy process, according to Charli.
“Seven years ago my husband took me to the E.R. … because of a crippling headache,” Charli explained. “The doctor wasn’t very nice at all; he pounded on my head over and over until I literally shoved him away. He ordered a CT scan of my brain and after it was done, he came back in the room and sat down. He wouldn’t even look at me when he said that something showed up on the CT.”
An MRI set for the next day only verified the emergency room physician’s diagnosis; something was in there that wasn’t supposed to be. The problem, as Charli soon learned, was that the mass was located in a spot that made it all but inaccessible. A Grand Rapids neurosurgeon said he wasn’t even able perform a biopsy because of the mass’ location.
Meanwhile, Charli’s headaches not only continued, but grew worse. The effects of the mass became increasingly alarming.
“The mass hasn’t really changed size,” Charli said. “But it causes debilitating headaches, blurry vision, tinnitus, insomnia, and many other symptoms. I can no longer drive and spend most days in a dark bedroom.”
Unwilling to accept the fact the headaches were just something she would have to learn to live with, Charli and her husband, Simon, contacted hospitals, universities and health centers across the state, searching for a specialist who might be able to give her some hopeful news. Charli calls that effort “extremely frustrating, to say the least.”
Eventually, however, Charli’s search turned up a support group online, men and women who, like her, exhibit pineal cysts. Through that group, Charli learned of Dr. Dong Kim, a surgeon from Houston, Texas, one of just a handful of surgeons capable of removing the mass.
Charli sent her accumulated test data to Kim, and after reviewing it, the doctor phoned her personally to say that not only should the mass come out, but that he was willing to perform the surgery.
However, roadblocks remained. Kim, a renowned neurosurgeon, is the same doctor who came to the public eye by saving the life of Sen. Gabrielle Giffords after she was shot by a gunman in 2011. Kim’s services do not come cheap.
“I have Medicare because I can’t work,” Charli said. “They should pay 80 percent, but that doesn’t mean they will. My husband has to take three weeks off from work to accompany me. There are travel expenses, hotel, food and then our regular monthly bills to pay on top of whatever my insurance won’t cover.”
The lifelong residents of the Stanton area have turned to friends and neighbors for help in financing the surgery. One such friend, Melissa Potter, has been helping get word about the fundraising efforts on the street.
Potter explained the urgent need for Charli’s surgery, saying, “She has been suffering for over eight years with constant migraines that last for days and weeks on end; she is losing her eyesight and has constant vertigo, she has had to stop driving and even her beloved kayaking.”
The Sprowls and their close friends have set up a fundraising site through which those who wish to may contribute to the cost of her surgery. The address is www.youcaring.com/medical-fundraiser/it-s-a-tuma-/127604.
Charli says that the website and publicity aren’t intended solely as a fundraiser, however, but as a chance to help spread the word about pineal cysts in general and the debilitating effects they can have on the health of an otherwise healthy person.
“These doctors that are removing these cysts are having great results,” Charli said. “We need to start creating an awareness about what they do, about the symptoms they can cause.”
For now, Charli is looking forward to the operation, which if successful, will give her back her life.