Taking Care of Your Health

Betty's Story

July 18, 2016

Betty-with-Dr-Vrionis-and-nurse-Mandy-Sullivan.jpg Betty, center, with Dr. Frank Vrionis and "praying nurse" Mandy Sullivan.

I am so grateful for Moffitt. It’s the healing place that gave me back my life. 

Back in 2005, I’d been battling progressive medical problems for five straight years. I couldn’t do the things I love, like cooking and gardening. My hands and feet were always cold. It had gotten to the point where I’d developed paralysis on my right side.  And I am right-handed! 

I’d seen 27 medical professionals over those five years – I kept count – but no one could give me a diagnosis.  I know some of them thought I was just a “neurotic old woman,” but I knew something wasn’t right.  

Betty and Frank
Betty and her husband, Bobby, celebrate their 60th anniversary.

Finally, a neighbor recommended a facility in Tampa, FL that specializes in spinal problems. Even though it was 600 miles from our home in Anderson, South Carolina, I was willing to travel for help.  They did diagnose the issue, a benign tumor at the top of my spine.  But they said I really needed to see an expert neurosurgeon. The situation was risky, and they said I shouldn’t wait to get help. 

Thankfully, they also gave me a name – Dr. Frank Vrionis, a neurosurgeon at Moffitt Cancer Center. It was the Friday before Thanksgiving when I first called his office. But once I explained the urgency, his nurse Mandy Sullivan scheduled me for an office visit first thing Monday morning.  

Dr. Vrionis said even though it was benign, the size and location of that tumor made it deadly.  It had grown so large that it was blocking all but a trickle of spinal fluid. That’s what caused the paralysis.  If that flow had been totally cut off, I wouldn’t have made it.   

My surgery at Moffitt was set for the week after Thanksgiving, 2005. It took Dr. Vrionis and his team 6½ hours to carefully lift out all the pieces of the tumor without damaging my spine.  I spent 23 days in the hospital and rehab.  A month later, I was home in Anderson. And the following March, my husband and I celebrated our 50th anniversary with a big party! I’ve remained active and love to travel. I’m a chaplain of our seniors group in my church and I compose and present devotionals each month. I was able to go on two missions to Mississippi in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.  

The doctors at Moffitt say they never discharge anyone – they stay in touch for life. But at my last appointment because of my complete recovery with no evidence of the tumor, Dr. Vrionis said I don’t have to come back unless I need to, and I’m always welcome. His nurse Mandy (known as the praying nurse) and I still stay in touch. I consider her my personal friend. She’s a wonderful person!  

Ten years later, I’m still here, doing what I love – though a little slower now. The lesson I learned was that we have to be aware of ourselves and our “normal” in order to help the experts with our care. No one knows you and your limitations better than you do. And whatever happens, don’t give up!  

Moffitt was the answer to my prayers, and if my story encourages someone else to reach out and get help there, it’s the least I can do.