When Hope Was Restored To Alicia Chin, Intramedullary Spinal Cord Tumor Survivor

Written by Eve Bandusena | Parents Avenue’s Editorial Assistant

Image Source: Gleneagles Kota Kinabalu Hospital

Alicia Chin was diagnosed with a rare condition, Intramedullary Spinal Cord. As a dance teacher, this diagnosis meant she would’ve been paralyzed for life and unable to continue sustaining her livelihood. However, after meeting Dr. Tan Wei Chean, Resident Endoscopic Spine Surgeon at Gleneagles Kota Kinabalu, hope was restored and so was her life and mobility.

Humble Beginnings

“My name’s Alicia Chin and I’m 41 years old.” Alicia shares with us. Before being diagnosed with Intramedullary Spinal Cord Tumor where tumors will typically develop inside the spinal cord, most frequently occurring within the neck region, Alicia was a dance instructor for children in her hometown of Beaufort. “I started dancing because of my daughter. I felt the need to accompany her.” However, being from a small town, she noticed what a hassle it was for children to travel to Kota Kinabalu for dance classes. “I think every child should have the opportunity to learn this skill so I decided to open a dancing space and teach dancing.” 

The Bleak Moment of Truth

Unfortunately, her efforts came to screeching halt when she discovered she had Intramedullary Spinal Cord Tumor. “It was indescribable. It felt like the world went pitch black,” she said upon learning about the diagnosis, “I felt I was too young to be implicated with it.” She indicated that the doctors relayed to her that this was a very rare condition. “There are moments where I questioned God and why he would inflict me with this. There were times when I was sad. But, I had friends and family providing me with advice and moral support.”

Alicia began to feel the weight of the symptoms as time went by. “I wondered why I was getting weaker and why managing myself became more difficult. When I walk, I would often fall over and my hand wouldn’t be able to lift objects.” She said. In the beginning, she mistook these symptoms as a trivial nuisance such as shoulder pains.

After consulting with doctors, it was apparent that her stiff legs, poor balance, and shoulder pains came from the Intramedullary Spine Cord Tumor. “From the moment I was diagnosed until the moment I went to Singapore for medical consultation, my condition worsened rapidly. I needed assistance walking and when I ate I couldn’t use a fork as I couldn’t control my movement and balance.” With this, Alicia raced against time to begin the necessary medical steps in treating her condition

Her Purposeful Search for The Right Treatment and Hospital

“Firstly, I went to a certain hospital located here in Kota Kinabalu. That’s where I was diagnosed. After examining my MRI, the doctor told me I couldn’t go for an operation,” she adds, “According to him, there was a 95% risk of being paralyzed and that I’ll experience respiratory problems.” The only option for Alicia was to gradually lose her ability to walk as there were no other choices. 

Alicia left feeling dissatisfied, however, she didn’t give up. Next, she met with Dr. Tan Wei Chean, resident consultant, Neurosurgeon, Pain Management Specialist and Endoscopic Spine Surgeon at Gleneagles Kota Kinabalu, who advised her to undergo Posterior Cervical Laminectomy Surgery as this would provide her with a better chance of recovering. The surgery is operated by removing the laminal (posterior bone of the spine) and then open the dural (cover of the spinal cord), then open the spinal cord to remove the tumor under a microscope. “After hearing these clashing consultations, I felt conflicted. One doctor said not to continue the operation and another doctor recommended it. With this, I went ahead to Singapore to get another medical perspective.” The doctors there also similarly concluded that undergoing for Posterior Cervical Laminectomy Surgery was the best option. 

“So, from there I returned to Kota Kinabalu and met with Dr. Tan. I wanted to know the risks and how I should take care of myself during recovery. In our conversation, he explained that there was a machine to detect the nerve and that the operation was safe,” she notes adamantly, “It was a better option that the 95% risk of being paralyzed and experience respiratory problems.”

With that, she underwent Posterior Cervical Laminectomy Surgery at Gleneagles Kota Kinabalu on January 7th 2019 and it was a resounding success.

Image Source: Gleneagles Kota Kinabalu Hospital
Her Recovery Journey Post-Surgery
 
“After surgery, I was bed-ridden for a week whether I was sleeping, eating or needed to pass motion. This required help from a lot of people.” Alicia said. Dr. Tan had taken the measure to prepare physiotherapy at the earliest point after the surgery ended. For Alicia, physiotherapy is done up to 2 to 3 hours a day. “It’s quite exhausting but I do see changes. At times, I felt like giving up,” she shared, “I had to relearn how to walk, where my foot should be placed, and where everything goes in general, up and down or left to right. It’s very difficult and there were times where I would shed a tear.” She sadly admitted.
 
She further expands, “When you look at a baby, these movements come naturally to them but for patients after this kind of operation, we need to go through the process of familiarizing ourselves with the most basic of movements even if it’s something we’ve done a million times in our daily lives.” She said. For Alicia, this included the aspect of what muscle to use, where her core comes from and so forth. “Without this, I had a hard time doing tasks myself if I didn’t have help from people. But, through physiotherapy there are improvements, like, being to stand and walk even though the pace of recovery is slow.”
 
When asked when she’ll be able to dance again, Alicia laughs and heartily says, “It’s possible! To dance like I used to would be a challenge as I’m still in physiotherapy training but I feel it’ll slowly improve. After the operation, my energy will come back gradually.” With the great outcome of the surgery, Alicia takes it day by day with a positive stride in her physiotherapy sessions in recovering once again.
     
 
Image Source: Gleneagles Kota Kinabalu Hospital
Last Messages To Readers of Parents Avenue
 
“If you’re sick, then you have to see the doctor,” was the main message Alicia delivered. “There’s no straightforward way of dealing with it. Try to gather as much as opinions and perspective as you can from medical health professionals and don’t wait for too long as there are conditions where you need to take quick action.”
 
Additionally, Alicia adds that finding the right doctor is also crucial in making not only an informed decision but also, important for the state of one’s mentality. “If you meet a doctor who delivers you negative news, it’s going to affect you. But, if you can find another doctor with a different point of view, and another method of handling it in a better and positive manner then you’ll feel emotionally uplifted.”
 
For more information about this topic, please contact Gleneagles Kota Kinabalu Hospital at 088-518 888 or visit the hospital at Riverson at Sembulan. Visit their website at http://gleneagleskk.com.my/ Follow them on Facebook for latest updates. 
 
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any diseases. At Parents Avenue, we strongly recommend all our readers to seek medical advise from your local hospital or clinic. Thank you.
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