Auburndale man is 1000th gamma knife patient

Tom Kollross, 51, of Auburndale, knew he was having some vision difficulties, so this past September, he went in to Marshfield Clinic for a routine eye exam. What his ophthalmologist found, however, was anything but routine.

“When he looked into my eyes, I could see the fear in him,” Kollross said. “I knew he had found a problem.”

That problem turned out to be meningioma, a tumor in the lining of the brain that was compressing against his eye nerve and carotid blood vessels. It required delicate brain surgery at Ministry Saint Joseph’s Hospital which removed 99 percent of the tumor, followed by Gamma Knife stereotactic radiosurgery to treat the 1 percent of the tumor that was still attached to the bone. In the process, Kollross received the “honor” of being the Hospital’s 1000th Gamma Knife patient.

The Gamma Knife is a non-invasive treatment for brain abnormalities, allowing physicians to treat areas of the brain that cannot be reached otherwise. It uses magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to show the tumor location, and then passes a precisely located, single dose of gamma radiation to safely and effectively treat the tumor, without harming surrounding tissue. Ministry Saint Joseph’s Hospital has had the Gamma Knife since 2000.

“Meningioma is usually benign, but some types, even if resected completely can come back and that’s the variety Tom had,” said Vivekananda Gonugunta, Marshfield Clinic neurosurgeon on staff at Ministry Saint Joseph’s Hospital, who did his surgery. “That’s why we decided to treat what was left of the tumor with radiation, so that it would not grow back.”

“We had the option of six weeks of conventional radiation therapy, which is more prolonged and offered no better outcome,” said Warren Olds, Marshfield Clinic Radiation Oncologist and medical director of the hospital’s Radiation Oncology Department. “With the Gamma Knife, we were able to give the same amount of radiation in one powerful dose, directly to what was left of the tumor. There is a 90 percent chance that it will not grow again.”

According to Dr. Gonugunta, Kollross likely had the tumor for three to four years before he noticed the symptoms.

“I knew for a few years that there might be something wrong, but I was stubborn,” Kollross said. “It had gotten worse the last three to four months. In fact the Monday before the Friday I had the eye appointment I was at the Elks Club for a steak feed and suddenly my vision went black. It lasted about 15 seconds or so, but I figured I was going to see the eye doctor that week anyway, so I’d wait.”

“Without surgery, patients with this type of tumor would eventually go blind, have paralysis or go into a coma,” said Dr. Gonugunta. “But the progression, like in this case, is usually slow enough that we have time to prepare for surgery.”

After his craniotomy, Kollross was in the hospital for 17 nights, six of those in the Rehabilitation Unit. Two months later, he went in for the Gamma Knife procedure, and went home the same day.

“One of the benefits of Gamma Knife surgery is that there is no incision, and only one treatment is required,” said Dr. Olds. “In this case, it only took three hours from start to finish.  Most patients resume normal activities within 24 hours.”

Kollross is proof of that. According to his wife, Kathy, a few days after the Gamma Knife procedure he was deer hunting, as well as keeping busy with the school activities of the couple’s three children--one in college, one in high school and one in junior high school. He’s also enjoying the outdoors more than ever, helping the Auburndale Snowmobile Club get ready for the upcoming season.

“I was close to being in big trouble,” Tom said. “I’m glad we have such amazing technology and specialists so close to home.  That eye appointment was on Friday the 13th, but I consider it my lucky day.”

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