Maggie Holiday, a 63-year-old from Accokeek, knows firsthand how difficult it is to be diagnosed with a brain disorder and be told that surgery is the answer. “I had never been sick a day in my life, and suddenly I was dizzy and limping, and I just didn’t feel right,” says Holiday. “I saw my primary care physician, who referred me to Dr. Bethel at the University of Maryland Baltimore Washington Spine and Neuroscience Center.”
A consultation and CT scan revealed that Holiday had Chiari malformation—a structural defect in the cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls balance.
“These malformations develop when the indented structures designed for the cerebellum and part of the brain stem are smaller than normal, which causes them to be pushed downward and into the upper spinal canal,” says spine and neurosurgeon Amiel Bethel, MD. “This resulting pressure can affect brain functions controlled by these areas, so patients may complain of numbness, dizziness, balance problems, muscle weakness, hearing loss and trouble with vision.”
Holiday’s condition meant she needed surgery to relieve the pressure that was building on her spine, and to alleviate the side effects that were affecting her ability to walk, sleep and properly use her arms and legs.
“I have kids and grandkids who surround me every day, and I have to be able to care for others—it’s who I am,” she says. “I told myself I was ready to get better and that I deserved to live. So I put my trust in Dr. Bethel and the Lord, and had my surgery to get me back to normal.”
While neurosurgery is a specialized field of medicine, it focuses on some of the most basic bodily functions. The brain tells the body what to do, and when there’s a communication breakdown, Holiday encourages you to trust your gut and seek help. “You know your own body: When something doesn’t feel right, it’s important to see your doctor,” she says. “Follow the doctor’s orders, trust in them and know that they’re there for you and want you to feel better.”
Experiences like Holiday’s happen every day at UM BWMC, which is why the medical center is home to the UM Baltimore Washington Spine and Neuroscience Center. The center comprises renowned neurosurgeons and spine surgeons who work closely with a multidisciplinary team of experts to provide comprehensive care to patients with disorders of the brain, spine and nervous system.