HEALTH: Brainy Beth takes on exams after tumour battle

By Lucy Ashton

A16-year-old girl  is studying hard ahead of her Higher exams – just 10 months after a lifesaving operation to remove a brain tumour.

Beth McKenzie found herself under the care of neurosurgeon Roddy O’Kane at the Royal Hospital for Children in Glasgow last June, in an operation to remove a tumour the size of an orange. The operation lasted eight hours.

Beth’s mum Clare explained that she took Beth to her GP after she was vomiting and having headaches and eye pain.

She said: “He arranged for Beth to have blood tests and said we should take her to an optician to check her eyes. My mum had a brain tumour when I was 22. It was a secondary cancer and she had it removed. But doctors couldn’t find the primary and she died. It all came flooding back. I was so worried when they said Beth had a tumour. It was tough to hear but you go on to autopilot. I had to be strong for Beth.”

When the tests revealed she had a tumour, Beth was sent to the emergency department at the Royal Hospital for Children in Glasgow where neurosurgeon Mr Roddy O’Kane was already on the case. Her operation was scheduled for a few days later – 4 June 2021.

Roddy said: “Anaesthetic time can take an hour so I get my breakfast before I start the operation. I am quite traditional and superstitious. I always have a roll, square sausage, and a potato scone.

“I wear the same lucky socks and the same lucky pants – there’s holes in them but I’m not throwing them out, they’ve done some cracking operations! And I always park my car in the same space when I operate.

“When I got to theatre one of the nurses handed me a note. It said: ‘Mr O’Kane, thank you for saving me and treating me like an adult, telling me the truth. You’re right, I can take it. Thank you for doing everything you can, and if I didn’t make it in the end, thank you for trying. It’s not your fault. These things just happen. From Beth.’

“It certainly makes you skip a heartbeat and brings a tear to your eye. It is beautiful, innocent and sincere; the maturity, understanding and openness of it. I still have it in my wallet.”

Beth is understandably very grateful to her surgeon.

She said: “I thought I was going to die. I wrote a note to Roddy saying that if I did die on the operating table, it wasn’t his fault. He was trying his best. I didn’t want him to feel responsible.

“Roddy and the team saved my life. I love Roddy, he gives a sense of hope and joy that you just cling on to.

“When I came round the first thing I saw out of one was my mum and dad at the bottom of my bed. Later on Roddy and the anaesthetist came to see me. I asked Roddy if I could header a ball yet and he said I couldn’t do that,” she added.

Mum Clare was also relieved when the long operation was finally over.

She said: “Beth was still woozy with the drugs but she was smiling and cracking jokes, she still had her humour. It was such a relief I could have cried with happiness. She is the bravest person I know.

“Roddy so upbeat, optimistic and funny and talked to Beth like an adult. He wanted to give her the respect she deserved as a young woman. He set our minds at ease and the nurses welcomed us.”

The next day they were given the good news that all the tumour had been successfully removed, but they had to wait a bit longer for the result of the biopsy. Thankfully it showed that Beth’s tumour was a Meningioma and was non-malignant. It was a great moment for the whole family – dad Peter, mum Clare, Beth and her wee sister Rosie.

Clare said: “We were en-route to a holiday lodge for a few days when the call came in. When we got to our lodge and the first thing we did was shout and ball to the family that it was benign. We had such a celebration!”

Beth recalled the moment: “I felt how you might feel if you were drowning and someone pulled you up; that first breath you gasp in. It was relief. I was so happy.”

Robby recalls Beth’s tumour – a meningioma – was “the size of an orange” and surrounded by “a lot of important blood vessels.”

He explained: “You don’t want to sacrifice those, because that would cause the child a stroke and paralysis for life down the left side of the body.”

Roddy is also a dad himself – to Sinead, 13, and Ciara, 11, and Sean, nine.

He said: “As a parent, I can empathise.  I’d be exactly like the parents of my patients because it is a naturally emotional thing.”

Roddy clearly loves his job and cares a great deal about his patients. He said: “My profession is the greatest reward. It is a beautiful thing to be able to do.”

But he added: “There is a whole team of people who worked with me to get Beth through that journey, anaesthetists, theatre staff, nurses, physios, MRI, radiology, pathology, porters, canteen staff – the list is endless. I always get the thanks but I can’t do it without them.”

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