News : 2010 : June

Saved From Paralysis

Connections Magazine
Jackson Memorial Hospital
Summer 2010 Issue

By Jennifer Mooney Piedra

Philppa “Pippa” Milne always thought of Jackson Memorial Hospital as a place where people come when they have been shot, seriously burned or critically injured in a car accident. The Coral Gables resident never expected she would need Jackson. But after burning her wrist – and not feeling any pain – Pippa underwent a series of tests that discovered a serious problem. She had an ependymoma, a massive tumor on her spinal cord, and was referred to Michael Y. Wang, M.D., FACS, a University of Miami/Jackson neurosurgeon who specializes in the treatment of complex spinal disorders.

Pippa’s case was uncommon because the tumor, which was the size of a spear of asparagus, sat completely within her spinal cord and was running out of room. Had she waited to have surgery, the chances for permanent damage would have dramatically increased.

“It was an extremely dangerous tumor,” said Dr. Wang. “If it continued to grow, it would have caused paralysis.”

High-Tech, Complex Surgery Only at Jackson
In September 2008, Pippa underwent a six-hour surgery at Jackson Memorial Hospital to remove the tumor. During the highly complex operation, doctors used a hypothermic treatment to cool her body to 33 degrees Celsius (91.4 degrees Fahrenheit) to protect her spinal cord from the growing tumor and to minimize damage to the spinal cord and surrounding nerves. Continuous electrical monitoring of her spinal cord, a technique innovated at Jackson Memorial, was used to warn Dr. Wang of any impending nerve damage.

Jackson, which is home to some of the world’s most renowned neurosurgeons, is outfitted with state-of-the-art equipment needed for complex spinal cord procedures such as intraoperative CT scanners, advanced microscopes and magnifying systems.

“There is no other hospital in the southern half of Florida that has the capability to do this type of complex surgery,” Dr.Wang said.

Pippa spent a month recovering at Jackson, including two weeks in Jackson Rehabilitation Hospital. Since the surgery, she has returned to her active lifestyle, which includes regular workouts at the gym and walks around the golf course.

Follow-up tests show the tumor is completely gone, and Dr. Wang says the likelihood of it growing back is very slim. Pippa Milne feels very fortunate that Jackson was around to help her.

“It is a phenomenal, world-class institution,” she said. “Everybody – from the patient care technician to the nurses to Dr. Wang – was extremely dedicated and compassionate.”

A Concert Says “Thanks”
As a thank you to Jackson, Pippa’s husband – a lawyer by day, Celtic rock musician by night – organized a benefit concert to raise money for the Jackson Memorial Foundation, the fundraising arm of the health system.

His band, The Three Jacks, performed before a large crowd at the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Miami. They raised about $75,000 for the hospital.