Neurological Foundation - Chair of Neurosurgery

Crucial Neurosurgery required

February 2012

It was during the 2010 neurosurgery campaign that Margaret Sykes started to think something was wrong with her right arm.

Little did she know the journey she and husband Graeme were starting that August, when a malignant brain tumour began showing itself through a weakened right arm.

Weeks later she would have the first of five operations to deal with the left-sided tumour, a level-three astrocytoma.

Since then Mrs Sykes (59) has had four urgent neurosurgery procedures, all carried out by Dunedin Hospital neurosurgeon Ahmad Taha.

A subsequent plastic surgery procedure to correct the dent left by so many head operations in one spot was assisted by the "marvellous" Mr Taha.

Her rehabilitation has been slower than the couple hoped, but the "gutsy, determined lady" had been incredibly positive and brave, Mr Sykes said.

Mrs Sykes was in a wheelchair for several months, before walking again last April, and has had to learn to do things with her left hand, while her right hand makes a very slow recovery. She has spent much of the time feeling "fuddled", struggling with concentration and focus, while her brain readjusts.

Mrs Sykes was an administrator at Otago Medical School when she became ill, and was a former manager of Dunedin Urgent Doctors and Accident Centre. She has also worked in the PhD and scholarships office at the University of Otago.

She took a strong interest in the 2010 neurosurgery campaign as a person working in the Dunedin health and learning sector. She knew the detrimental effect Dunedin would suffer through losing the service. It would affect the medical school, through loss of research and other opportunities.

The illness prevented her taking part in the latter stage of the campaign, during which the couple would have attended public meetings.

Having her operations in Dunedin meant her support networks could help her through the five operations, support which had been tremendous and made her feel almost like a "community project".

The couple had returned to Dunedin at the start of 2010 after a stint in New Plymouth. Had the tumour struck there, she would have had treatment in Wellington, which would have been much more difficult. The benefits of living in a medical training city extended well into recovery, and she looked forward to taking part in a trial in the University of Otago's physical education department into the use of electrode stimulation for stroke sufferers (while she has not had a stroke, the effects are similar)"I don't think I could be in a better place," Mrs Sykes said.

The experience had made her and Mr Sykes completely re-evaluate their diet, and the importance of the mind, meditation, exercise and the body's immune system.

She wanted more emphasis on people's diets when they went to a GP, and said it was an issue afforded more interest from veterinarians than doctors.

Given the all-clear from the tumour in October, the couple were now wholly focused on the future and recovery.