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A Team Approach Helped Her Beat a Brain Tumor | Comprehensive Spine Center Helped Madeline Reclaim Quality of Life


Madeline Martelack is back to making her trademark pretzel-crusted cheesecake. She is also crocheting again. And driving. Only six months ago the 79-year-old Mayfair resident struggled to even lift her arm.

Her ordeal started with pain and numbness in her neck and back, which extended to her head and down her leg. “I started walking funny,” she recalls. “I looked like I was drunk.”

Her symptoms grew worse. She began to experience a fidgety feeling. “At night, when I was supposed to be sleeping, I would be in my bedroom walking the floor,” she says. 

Things went from bad to worse and her abilities became severely limited. “I wasn’t able to write,” she recalls. “I wasn’t able to feed myself. I couldn’t clothe myself.” She needed a solution, and one emerged. 

A source of hope

Her nephew’s wife had just undergone surgery on her neck, performed by James McKenzie, MD, an orthopedic spine surgeon at Redeemer Health’s Comprehensive Spine Center, a partnership with Global Neurosciences Institute. The spine center emphasizes a collaborative, interdisciplinary approach and offers the combined expertise of orthopedic surgeons, neurosurgeons, pain specialists, and rehabilitation experts.

“I knew I should go see Dr. McKenzie,” Martelack recalls. She wasn’t disappointed. “Dr. McKenzie was very, very, very nice, and I just felt so comfortable with him from the time I walked through his door.”

Then the doctor said something that stopped her cold: “I can help you, but I need to see an MRI.” Martelack explained that she was claustrophobic and petrified of MRIs. “I couldn’t go through a car wash without hyperventilating.” That’s when Dr. McKenzie made an offer no other provider had ever made for Martelack: He would have an anesthesiologist on hand if she needed sedation. 

The MRI went smoothly, but within a couple of hours Dr. McKenzie called with the news. They found a large tumor. It was a rare lesion called a meningioma, at the base of her brain.

“I was actually relieved to find out what it was,” Martelack recalls. By that time, she had fallen several times and was desperate to find an explanation for her symptoms. Dr. McKenzie already had a team in place to handle Martelack’s care.

A team approach

The center’s interdisciplinary approach came into play in Martelack’s case, Dr. McKenzie says, as he enlisted the help of center colleague Atom Sarkar, MD, a neurosurgeon with Global Neurosciences Institute.

“This is why the Comprehensive Spine Center works so well,” Dr. McKenzie says. “I was able to contact Dr. Sarkar, a neurosurgeon who has much more experience with meningiomas. He and I worked together to treat Madeline.” 

Drs. McKenzie and Sarkar teamed up to perform an operation that took almost eight hours. “I believe working together on Madeline’s behalf would give us the best opportunity to stabilize the cervical spine and deal with the tumor,” Dr. McKenzie says. “And that’s what makes our place special.”

When the procedure was over, they had good news for Martelack. Not only had they managed to remove the entire growth, but it was not malignant. The effects of the surgery were immediate. 

Martelack recalls, “After the surgery, the doctors were standing there at the bottom of my bed, and one of them said, ‘Can you lift your arm?’ And I did. I lifted my arm!” 

Dr. McKenzie says recovery from procedures like Martelack’s can be challenging, but he has been surprised at the pace of his patient’s improvement. “Madeline got stronger every week, and she had significant improvement,” he says. “By the time I saw her two weeks later, I was shocked at how well she was walking and the strength she was getting back in her left hand. And now at almost six months, she’s doing wonderfully,” he says.

Dr. McKenzie believes Martelack made the right choice by coming to the center. “Patients have different treatment options when it comes to chronic low back or neck pain, and it’s important that they understand that by coming to a place like Redeemer Health’s Comprehensive Spine Center, they get more than they would from a single physician. It’s a team-based approach.” 

Martelack rates her satisfaction with her care at the spine center as “Over 100 percent! I just can’t praise Dr. McKenzie enough,” she adds. 

Martelack is enjoying the benefits of her experience. “I like to bake, and I’ve started taking an interest in that again,” she says, noting that she had to abandon her hobby because she couldn’t lift anything. “Now I have an interest in all the things I used to do. My quality of life is wonderful now.”

A partnership between Redeemer Health and Global Neurosciences Institute, the Comprehensive Spine Center is an innovative program where the combined expertise of neurosurgeons, orthopedic surgeons, pain specialists and rehabilitation specialists work together to provide dedicated support and navigation throughout your care. Call 215-910-4463 or visit www.compspinecenter.com for further information.

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