Texas Nurse Tripped at Home, Found Out She Had a Brain Bleed — and Leukemia
In May of that year, Donna Ford was getting ready for work when she fell in her hallway, which she thought was nothing.
The licensed vocational nurse said, “I tripped on a board and landed on my bottom.”At the time, Ford, 52, worked nights at a nursing home in Trinity, Texas. After she fell, she went to work as planned but had headaches all night. “I didn’t feel well,” she recalls. When she got home from work, she told her husband she needed to go to the hospital. Although she didn’t recall hitting her head, “I could hear a rushing sound in my ear and my vision was a little bit off,” she says. “As a nurse, I knew what those signs were.” She asked her husband to take her to the emergency room.
A CT scan at the ER near her home in Livingston, Texas, confirmed her fear: She had a brain bleed.
She was sent home and told that the subdural hematoma would resolve on its own. But the next morning, she couldn’t stop vomiting. “I knew that it wasn’t getting better,” she says, “it was getting worse.” So she called an ambulance.After another CT Scan, she was flown via Life Flight to Houston’s Memorial Hermann Hospital. There she was diagnosed not only with a brain bleed — but also acute promyelocytic leukemia. “It was quite a big shock,” she says. “I don’t think I would’ve found out about the leukemia as quickly, if I hadn’t fallen.”
Serious bleeding — often in the brain — can be a sign of this type of leukemia, says her oncologist, Dr. Adan Rios. “This creates an enormous challenge,” says Rios, surgical oncologist with UTHealth Houston and Memorial Hermann. “A surgical intervention in the middle of an early diagnosis of leukemia is a complex process that requires very specialized management.”
Instead of doing open brain surgery — which could have led to brain damage, or possibly even death — doctors performed a minimally invasive technique. Dr. P. Roc Chen, a neurosurgeon with UTHealth Houston and Memorial Hermann, inserted a catheter in an artery in Ford’s thigh, and threaded it to her brain which “obliterated” the hematoma on her brain.
While this rare procedure has been done before on non-lymphoma patients, Ford is one of only three acute leukemia patients in the country who have been treated using this method.
Once the bleeding in Ford’s brain was under control, she was able to begin cancer treatments.“This leukemia is very unique,” Rios says. “About 95 percent of these cases, once you start treatment, they ended up being cured. The first stage of the diagnosis is critical: If you’re able to get the patient over the acute phase, most of these patients will go on and be cured of their leukemia.”
Ford spent a month in the hospital and did four rounds of chemo over eight months.