Friday 30 January 2015

Living on a knife edge - how robots saved my life

Laurenz Egan's life was turned upside down when, aged 22, he was diagnosed with a brain tumour but then he was offered the opportunity to become the first person in Ireland to undergo robotic surgery

Laurenz Egan who had Cyber Knife Robotic Radiosurgery

A few years ago, Laurenz Egan's future looked bleak – he had a life-threatening brain tumour. However, medical science had already taken a remarkable leap forward, which would result in a new form of treatment that would help resolve not only his problems, but those of thousands of other people living with life-threatening illnesses.

It's the stuff of a modern-day fairy story, complete with ghouls (disease) and magic wands (innovations), and it proves that, no matter how bleak things may seem, there is always hope.

Laurenz Egan, 39, grew up in Arklow, Co Wicklow. The eldest of four children, he loved athletics and playing football.

Following a degree in business studies, he taught at a centre in Bray that helped unemployed people get back to work.

He was happy with life, until he reached 22 and began to experience hearing problems. One GP said he had a build-up of wax in his ears; another ascribed the problem to a virus.

However, Laurenz's shrewd mum thought otherwise and arranged for him to see an ENT specialist, who confirmed the hearing loss. She suggested he have an MRI scan so she could "eliminate some nasties". When he returned the following week, she informed him he had a large tumour pressing on his brain, close to his inner ear. It was called an acoustic neuroma and was relatively rare.

"It was an out-of-body moment, when time stood still," Laurenz recalls. "The word 'shock' doesn't begin to describe what I felt."

That was a Thursday in late January 1997. Laurenz was admitted to Beaumont Hospital the following Sunday, where he was introduced to Daniel Rawluk, his neurosurgeon.

"He was an absolute gentleman and a very straight communicator," says Laurenz. "He could only give me a 30 per cent chance of coming through the surgery intact. But I saw it as a glass full – that 30 per cent was my good fortune. I went into theatre on the Monday and was there for many hours."

All seemed to have gone well, even though he lost all hearing in his left ear.

The following April, the young educator got yet another terrible blow when doctors discovered cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) was leaking from his brain.

So, in June, he underwent a second operation to stem the loss of fluid, but, though valiant efforts were made, they didn't altogether succeed. Laurenz, who was now in the high-dependency ward, was confined to bed, unable to move. This was due to the insertion of a lumbar drain to divert his CSF.

In truth, he was in a very bad space, both physically and emotionally. As a result of the surgeries, he endured alarming episodes when his body went into spasm.

Making matters even worse was the fact that he wasn't allowed to sleep, due to monitoring every 15 minutes. And, though it was the worst time of his life, Laurenz has nothing but praise for those trying to help him. "Beaumont is a brilliant hospital, with brilliant nurses and an incredible team of doctors. I can't stress that enough," he says.

So Laurenz was finally ready to have his next surgical procedure, and this proved so successful that, after a few weeks – and with the leak now gone – he was able to go home. Following this surgery, he says he felt he could "move mountains". He remained working in Bray for the next five years, then he began managing a college of further and adult education in Thurles, Co Tipperary.

Along the way, he met and married his "sweetheart", Caroline Doherty, and they now have two beautiful children – Joe, 9, and Lauren, 7.

In the interim, Laurenz remained well, until 2007, when an MRI scan showed that the tumour had returned.

Sunday Indo Life Magazine

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