Mitzie Hensley, a veteran officer with the department, began having issues with her neck and shoulder 20 years ago, but it wasn’t until last fall that her ear, nose and throat doctor did a full head MRI. That’s when he found a mass in at the base of her skull. Ultimately it was diagnosed as an inoperable, non-cancerous meningioma that had calcified.
Further tests showed the tumor had encased her carotid artery and intertwined itself through skull canals and around several nerves in her neck. Her relief over learning what was wrong was brief, because doctors at Vanderbilt said it was too dangerous for them to operate. They wanted to wait and watch it or do radiation.
Although the tumor is not malignant, it needs to be removed before it takes over the nerves and blood flow in her neck. After years of swallowing and voice problems, Hensley said she’s found the path through the health issue.
She found a surgeon in New York who agreed to do an evaluation and after that said he could operate. The first step was to see if Hensley could survive without her left carotid artery. It turned out she couldn’t, so surgeons performed a carotid bypass using an artery from another part of her body.
After Hensley came out of the anesthesia from the six-hour surgery, doctors determined she had suffered a mild stroke.
”We started working on that,” said husband Tony Hensley. “Two weeks went by, she started eating, she sat on side of bed, she stood up.” Little by little, Mitzie regained some of her strength and motor skills. Then came another setback — a blood clot had broken loose in her brain.
Tony had been to their leased apartment in New York to shower and change clothes. When he returned, he knew something was amiss.
“I said ‘Hey how you doing’ and she said, ‘’OK.’ I said, ‘Smile.’ She smiled and the right side was gone. I got the nurses and they came in and saw what I saw,” Tony said.
A CT scan revealed Mitzie had a brain clot that passed through, and “that put us back to where she was after the ventilator went in for the surgery,” he said.
Through Mitzie’s journey, she’s had a strong and continuous flow of support from her law enforcement family in Jonesborough as well as other friends and relatives. Sheriff’s Office employees use the phrase #TeamHensley as a way to show their love and support for Mitzie.
Tony is keeping friends and family back home updated with live Facebook videos showing Mitzie’s progress. As of Wednesday, there were plans to move her to a rehabilitation facility to work more on her motor skills and regain strength to get through the tumor removal surgery.
“She’s doing quite well,” Tony said about his wife. “She’s walking ... there’s some mental skills we’re having to work on due to the stroke. She is very mentally aware but when you ask a question she just can’t get the words out.”
Hensley also said he’s been amazed at the amount of support they have received from the New York Police Department. When Mitzie first had surgery, a police officer in a nearby room was recovering from his own health emergency.
Tony Hensley began talking to the officers who visited their friend, exchanged department patches and challenge coins. Challenge coins are medallions representative of an officer’s department and it’s common for officers to exchange them and collect them.
That interaction between Hensley and the New York officers showed just how strong the “brothers and sisters in blue,” connection is throughout law enforcement.
”Before he left he would walk across the hall and talk to Mitzie. She couldn’t respond much at all, but he encouraged her and said if anything we need we could call him.
That promise came in handy when two friends from the sheriff’s office — including Chief Deputy Leighta Laitenin — flew to New York to visit Mitzie. Waiting for them at the airport was a police escort that took them straight to the hospital. Tony said his young daughter is also flying up to see them and will also get an escort.
“I have never never seen such a tight-knit organization and family. It doesn’t get any tighter than this. They open their arms up and will do anything for you,” Hensley said.
He said surgeons have told them it could be four to six weeks before the tumor removal operation can take place. In the meantime, Mitzie will be doing rehab to regain her strength and the motor skills affected by the stroke.