Cancer

Although diagnosed as inoperable, Gary's brain tumor successfully removed by UW Health surgeons

A father gives his daughter a kiss.

Lori Pedretti was terrified.

Her 43-year-old husband, Gary, was living with a brain tumor that not one, but two physicians would not operate on because – they said – surgery was too dangerous. Because of the tumor’s location, they believed that surgery would put Gary at high risk for a stroke or loss of vision or hearing.

It was no exaggeration to say that the Pedrettis, of Westby, Wis., felt hopeless, knowing that Gary had a brain tumor that could not be removed.

"Our daughter was only 3 at the time," said Lori, "and here I am wondering if I will soon be raising her without her father."

The tumor was also causing Gary to have seizures. The first one was a grand mal seizure in April 2015. Later that year, he had mini-seizures which were increasing in frequency.

"It got to the point where Gary was having a seizure every night, just as he was falling asleep," Lori said. "I would lie in bed stiff as a board dreading what I knew was coming."

Wife learned about Dr. Baskaya as if it were fate

 A registered nurse for 10 years, Lori was pursuing a master’s degree at the time from Viterbo University in La Crosse, Wis. She almost skipped class one night because she was afraid to leave Gary home alone, but she forced herself out the door – a decision that might have saved her husband’s life.

Sitting next to Lori in class that evening was another Lori – Lori Slattery, who at the time was Director of the Aspirus UW Cancer Center in Wisconsin Rapids.

The two Loris had a chance to meet and talk, and Lori Slattery recalls the conversation vividly.

“Lori Pedretti was telling me about her husband,” Slattery said. “I asked if Gary was considering another opinion, because a few days earlier, our cancer center hosted UW Health neurosurgeon Mustafa Baskaya, MD, who spoke to our clinicians about treatment of brain cancer and the neurological system. His presentation was so impressive that I shared his name with Lori Pedretti, who wasted little time by calling Dr. Baskaya’s office the next morning."

Baskaya's nurse practitioner, Letty Geanon, NP, reviewed Gary’s records and asked the Pedrettis to come to Madison as soon as they could.

Finally, hope seemed possible

After feeling lost for months, Gary and Lori began to feel that hope was truly possible.

"Dr. Baskaya put my wife and me at ease within just a few minutes of meeting him,” Gary said. "We knew right away that he was the one who would be able to help me."

Moreover, Dr. Baskaya’s manner, Lori recalls, was incredibly reassuring.

“He is very confident and comforting, without being arrogant – and we had seen arrogance before,” Lori said.

Best of all, Dr. Baskaya told the Pedrettis that he would operate on Gary. While unable to give them a guarantee, Dr. Baskaya told Gary he was 90 percent confident that there would be a good outcome. He also cleared his calendar so that just four days later, Gary was taken into the operating room at UW Health.

“Not only is Dr. Baskaya an incredibly gifted surgeon, but he uses advanced technologies such as intraoperative MRI, high-tech surgical microscopes with special dyes and motor-evoked potential recording to ensure he can remove as much tumor as possible without causing damage to parts of the brain that control motor skills,” said Geanon, his nurse practitioner. "It helps him ensure that patient safety is the highest priority, and it certainly was in Gary’s case."

When Dr. Baskaya came out of surgery, he approached Lori with the news. 

Entire tumor removed

“Gary had a Grade II astrocytoma, and I was able to resect this tumor gross totally,” said Dr. Baskaya, meaning that every bit of tumor he could see on MRI or under the surgical microscope was removed. “Everything went well.”

Despite flying to his native Turkey for Christmas just a few days later, Dr. Baskaya stayed in touch with Letty to be sure that Gary was recovering well in the days and weeks after surgery.

“Dr. Baskaya is 24/7," Geanon said. "He will answer a call in the middle of the night, whether he’s here or out of the country to ensure that patients like Gary are given the very best care."

Gary, who helps install new water and sewer mains for a Wisconsin-based company, is in his fourth symptom-free year following surgery. He is doing very well, but the emotions run deep when he and Lori return to Madison for Gary’s periodic MRI brain scans.

"Dr. Baskaya and Letty are just so warm and caring, and even though we get nervous waiting for the result after an MRI, we know things will be OK,” Lori says. "They truly are like angels from God."