Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Jeff Kellner

It is hard to believe that what I am about to write is really my story. As I sit here today, young, strong, and healthy, it is hard to believe that I have ever been any different. Yet, if I really look at myself, there are scars and remnants that let me know this story is real.

At the age of 26 I was as healthy as can be. I had never had any illnesses, surgeries, hospitalizations… nothing. In fact, I was one of those typical young men that never even went to the doctor. I didn’t even have a doctor actually. I was happily married, had a good job, a nice house; I had everything. I also still had the mentality of many young people. The mentality that leads you to think you are indestructible; that bad things will never happen to you. Things changed however in the spring of 2009. It all started when I was Quiet Waters Park with my wife Vanessa and our dogs. It was a gorgeous day and we were enjoying a picnic outside. I was telling my wife that my vision had deteriorated and that I felt my field of vision was limited. I covered one eye at a time and demonstrated to her what I meant. I could tell immediately that she was concerned. In fact, that day we decided I would make an appointment as soon as possible for me to go and get new contacts. I really thought that was all it was…

In May of 2009 I went to get evaluated for new contacts. It was at that appointment that I first knew something was not right. I was told that the vision in my left eye could not be corrected and that I had something called optic atrophy. I was referred to see a retina specialist and was very fortunate to be able to see Dr. Susan Bressler at Johns Hopkins. Dr. Bressler confirmed the diagnosis of optic atrophy and immediately referred me to see Dr. Neil Miller at Johns Hopkins to determine the underlying cause. After several doctors’ visits and an MRI, I was informed that I had a large brain tumor pressing against my optic nerve. My first thought was that this could not be happening. I was too young to die and was nowhere near ready to leave my life. I was terrified. What followed was a series of many doctor visits and consultations. My life had changed drastically in a split second. I went from having no doctors to seeing 5 specialists in one week. I was incredibly blessed to be able to see some of the finest and most talented physicians… physicians that truly saved my life.

On June 25th, 2009 I reported bright and early for my craniotomy. Dr. Alfredo Quinones and Dr. Miller were the surgeons who operated on me that day. It was a difficult and dangerous surgery as my tumor was oddly shaped and located in a less than ideal location (if a brain tumor can ever be ideal that is). However, they were successfully able to get enough of the tumor to save the good eye that I had left.  I will forever be grateful to Dr. Q and Dr. Miller. Not only did their expertise and surgical skills save my life, but they also treated me and my family with the upmost respect and kindness. They treated us like family, not just like another patient or an interesting case. Without their honesty, straightforwardness, kindness, and reassurance, I don’t know how I would have gotten through that difficult ordeal.

Although the surgery was over, I still had a long and difficult road of recovery ahead. I also had to undergo radiation to treat the remaining tumor. I went to Boston in December of 2009 to start receiving proton beam radiation. I was treated by Dr. Jay Loeffler at Massachusetts General Hospital. Again, I was very fortunate to be able to see a superb doctor who made this process as easy as it could have been. On February 5th, 2010 I completed my final radiation treatment. That day was one that I will never forget, as for me it marked the end of a long and difficult journey back to health.

My story is not without its share of challenges. Prior to my craniotomy, I was also diagnosed with a spinal tumor. It is believed that this tumor is a benign meningioma, similar to my brain tumor. Because it is not symptomatic it is just being watched for now. We are hoping it does not grow, but I know that if it should someday grow and need to be addressed, I am in good hands. I also woke up from my craniotomy to find that I was completely blind in my left eye. At first, this was very difficult for me to accept. However, over time I have accepted this and in fact I am now grateful. I am grateful that my doctors were able to save all of the vision in my right eye and that they brought me out of the surgery without any other negative outcomes. I am grateful for my life and for my health. I believe that what does not kill you only makes you stronger. And I indeed know that today I am a much stronger man because of what I have been through. I am grateful and humbled by all of the help my family and I received along the way. From the kindness of the doctors to the generosity of places like the Hope Lodge in Boston, the place my wife and I stayed during my radiation treatments. I also found out how lucky I am to be blessed with such wonderful friends and family. We had friends and family that went out of their way to care for my wife and I during this difficult time, and we could never have made it without them.

The beauty of life is that despite what science tells us, miracles do happen. Although medically it seemed impossible that I would ever regain vision in my left eye, I have in fact been slowly regaining vision. It was a surprise to me and downright shocking to my doctors. However, it is happening. Over the past year, each time I have been to see Dr. Miller, my neuro-ophthalmologist; I have been given the good news that my field of vision in my left eye is slowly but surely expanding. Although I still can’t see colors and can’t identify what I am seeing, I can see movement now. It is something. It is a miracle and I am grateful for it. It renews my hope that you never know what can happen. No matter what the diagnosis or prognosis, it is always important to hold on to hope… 

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