Going the distance against brain cancer

Leading-edge neurosurgery and radiation put lifelong runner back on track

February 23, 2015
William Norris, brain cancer patient.

You can tell William Norris has always been an athlete. At 64, he has the slender build and body awareness of a lifelong runner and sports trainer. So when something didn’t feel right during a training session in the summer of 2014, he paid attention. “Everything I do involves coordination, rhythm and technique, and I noticed the rhythm on my left side was off,” he explains.

Fearing a stroke, his family took him to UC Irvine Medical Center, where doctors discovered a brain tumor. “Tests showed that the growth was very rapid and needed to be removed immediately,” explains Dr. Daniela Bota, a neuro-oncologist and medical co-directo of the UC Irvine Health Comprehensive Brain Tumor Program. “But the growth was buried deep within the brain so it would be difficult to reach without damaging tissue that controlled vital functions such as movement and speech.”

Soon after Norris was diagnosed, the UC Irvine Health neurosurgical team of Dr. Jefferson Chen and Dr. Frank Hsu removed the tumor. They were assisted by BrainPath®—a device that fewer than 160 doctors nationwide are trained to use. The new device allows surgeons to maneuver safely through the delicate folds and fibers of the brain, displacing rather than cutting through tissue, much as a boat hull pushes water aside. This reduces the potential of damage to normal tissue.

For Norris, the results were remarkable. He was released from the hospital just eight days after surgery. Three weeks later, he participated in a 5K walk with his family. “It was good!” he says.

One month later, the long-time coach returned to UC Irvine Health for another revolutionary procedure—a single radiation treatment from a powerful new image-guided system called TrueBeam™ STx. The first of its kind in Orange County, this amazing machine delivers radiation therapy to patients in record time with unequaled power and precision. Instead of 10 to 15 treatments over two to three weeks—the traditional time frame for radiation therapy—Norris needed only one 10-minute session.

“During a single visit using TrueBeam technology, we can achieve the same results as we do with longer duration radiotherapy,” says Dr. Nilam Ramsinghani, chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology. So accurate is the machine that it targets tumors within 1 millimeter—the thickness of a sheet of paper.

Several months after his operation, Norris continues to improve each day. He has some weakness and coordination problems on his left side, but doctors say those will eventually disappear. Meanwhile, he continues to exercise and to train young athletes—the two great passions in his life, besides his family. “Working out and training kids—that’s who I am,” he says. “I’m doing well, really well.”

To view a video about William Norris’ treatment and recovery from brain cancer, visit ucirvinehealth.org/william.

 — UC Irvine Health Marketing & Communications
Featured in UC Irvine Health - Winter 2014/2015 Issue

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