10 Years After a Craniotomy Saved Her Life, Haley Godin is Tumor Free

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“Dr. Oh and his team did an amazing job making a very scared 12-year-old feel as comfortable and safe as possible during a difficult time,” says Haley Godin. She’s referring to her own experience ten years ago when Baystate Health neurosurgeon Dr. Dennis Oh performed surgery on her brain and saved her life.

She says she’ll always remember how reassuring it was that Dr. Oh came to her hospital room and checked in on her regularly after the procedure. It wasn’t long before Haley went home and had a full recovery. But there’s much more to the story – including that Dr. Oh is still checking in on Haley!

Why Did Haley Need Brain Surgery?

In 2012, Haley began experiencing painful migraines, nausea and vision changes. Over-the-counter pain relievers didn’t help and the only time she was not in pain was when she was asleep. Her pediatrician ordered Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) at Baystate Health to scan for anything abnormal in her brain. That’s when they discovered a large brain tumor in the back of Haley’s head. She was immediately admitted to Baystate Children’s Hospital where she saw Dr. Oh.

“He thoroughly explained to me and my parents the entire procedure I needed. I didn’t fully understand what was happening, but I could tell from watching my parents that something was really wrong,” Haley says.

“The tumor and fluid buildup in Haley’s brain meant that without surgery, Haley would soon have been unable to keep her balance walking and move her body,” Dr. Oh says. “That would have been followed by decreasing wakefulness, coma, and then death.”

Easing Fears, Losing Hair and the Operation

In preparation for surgery, some of Haley’s hair had to be shaved off. When she heard that, the sixth grader was upset and fearful. How would she look? Would it grow back? Two members of Dr. Oh’s surgical team shaved part of her head and Haley was grateful they were women, not men.

“They understood the importance of hair to a young girl and reassured me my hair would grow back. They didn’t want me to feel embarrassed,” Haley says. The caregivers’ compassion and the way they put themselves in her shoes is a vivid memory for her.

haley godin dancing

To completely remove the tumor, Dr. Oh and his surgical team performed a craniotomy which can be described as opening a window on the skull. Due to the size of the tumor and its location next to the brainstem, the procedure required experience and skill.

“Dr. Oh was able to remove my entire tumor and my scar is so small that I even forget about it,” Haley says.

Waking up from surgery, she remembers an indescribable feeling of relief when she realized she no longer had a painful migraine. Two days after surgery, Haley was able to go home. Not long after that, she joyfully returned to dancing – one of her passions.

It Was Not Even a Question

That was a decade ago. Fast forward to today and Haley just graduated from college and, even though she now lives in Boston, she continues to see Dr. Oh for follow-ups every few years.

“When my family moved from western Massachusetts to Boston, whether I would switch neurosurgeons was not even a question in my mind. Seeing Dr. Oh for my follow-ups is something I look forward to and it is worth the extra drive,” Haley says. Tumors can return and she appreciates the reassurance and peace of mind knowing that everything is still okay.

During follow-up visits, Dr. Oh reviews Haley’s MRI scans with Haley and her family but also spends time catching up with Haley, discussing her accomplishments and new things going on in her life since their last visit.

“From middle school all the way to most recently my college graduation, I have been able to share so many new updates with Dr. Oh, we are going to be lifelong friends,” Haley says.

The feeling is mutual and Dr. Oh describes his patient as a smart, vivacious and industrious young lady who is poised to take on the world and enjoy life.

Giving Back

After her surgery, Haley wanted to express how thankful she was for her successful recovery.

“I decided that providing support to children struggling with cancer would be the best way to express my gratitude,” Haley says.

She held fundraisers for Baystate Children’s Hospital at her high school and was featured in the annual 94.7 WMAS Radiothon for the Baystate Children’s Hospital several times. Her goal then was to continue to support children with cancer and she even hoped to make it into a career.

That hope recently became a reality. After graduating from Providence College in Rhode Island with a degree in Health Policy and Management, Haley now works full-time on the finance team at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Cancer Center, specifically on clinical trials.

“The fact that I am beginning a career in a field I’m passionate about is really special to me,” says Haley, adding, “I owe everything to Dr. Oh and his team. Baystate Health saved my life.”

Learn More

Baystate Health neurosurgeons use the latest techniques, including minimally invasive approaches, mini-craniotomies, neuroendoscopy, and neuronavigation for image-guided removal of brain tumors. Learn more about Baystate Health’s comprehensive approach to diagnosing and treating brain tumors.

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