There were cheers, hugs and tears in the Washington County Sheriff’s Office parking lot Tuesday when officers and staff welcomed one of their own home after her five-month stay in New York for brain surgery.
Deputy Mitzie Hensley thought she was headed to the annual Thanksgiving lunch at work, but got a huge surprise as she and her husband turned into the parking lot: sheriff’s patrol cars lined up with their lights flashing and her fellow officers standing nearby to greet her.
Hensley and her husband, Tony Hensley, returned to Tennessee last week. The past five months have been difficult for the couple, but the support and love from back home got them through the tough moments and helped them celebrate the victories.
After nearly 20 years of “something” being wrong with her voice, the discovery of an enlarged lymph node and issues with the left side of her tongue that later were diagnosed as palsy, she began having trouble swallowing food and liquids and often had violent coughing fits, and doctors finally diagnosed her with having an extra/intra cranial meningioma.
The good news was that it wasn’t cancer. The not-so-good-news was that the tumor had encased her carotid artery and intertwined itself through skull canals and around several nerves in her neck.She was relieved to finally know what the problem was, but that was short-lived because doctors at Vanderbilt said it was too dangerous for them to operate. They wanted to wait and watch it or do radiation.
“Twenty years of waiting to see what happens is too long. If it’s not removed it will continue to grow and will cause life-threatening injury,” Hensley said earlier this year. In some ways her life was just beginning — she recently married her husband who has been a rock through the health scare — and she wasn’t willing to just watch and wait for the tumor to keep growing.
Her physician here was able to connect Hensley to New York-based physician Dr. Peter Vincent Costantino. He’s the executive director and senior vice president of the New York Head and Neck Institute and the Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery Service Line of the North Shore-LIJ Health System. Hensley had to go through even more testing that Costantino reviewed before he would accept her as a patient.
He did, but the process of getting to the operating room was long and had many obstacles. 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. A CT scan revealed Mitzie had a brain clot that passed through, which set the process back significantly. But Hensley improved daily and eventually was able to undergo surgery to remove the tumor.
That surgery was successful, and Hensley was on the way to recovering. There were some hiccups in the mending process, but Hensley came out on the other end and came home.
Seeing the response of her co-workers on Tuesday made it obvious how much love and support they have for her, as well as her love for them. Hensley will be monitored by her doctors in Tennessee, but will have to return to New York in a year to follow up from the surgery.
As Thanksgiving approaches, Hensley said she has so much to be thankful for this year.