Sarah Holden has emerged from life-saving brain surgery singing the praises of surgeon Dr Charlie Teo, and the Lake Macquarie community who helped to raise the $100,000 to fund the operation.
“Thank you so much. You’ve saved my life,” Ms Holden told locals through the Lakes Mail this week.
“I won’t ever be able to thank you enough. But you have saved me as much as Dr Teo did.
“I’m here, and my kids have got their mother back.”
Ms Holden, 35, of Arcadia Vale, was diagnosed in January with a rare pineal cystic tumour.
The tumour, about 1.5cm in diameter, was causing her a range of increasingly painful and debilitating symptoms.
If left untreated, the tumour was likely to kill her.
Medical treatments proved ineffective and Ms Holden was unable to get the tumour surgically removed through the public health system.
So she sought out neurosurgeon Dr Charlie Teo.
He assessed Ms Holden and agreed to perform the surgery at Prince of Wales Private Hospital, in Sydney.
The procedure would be performed for an up-front fee of $100,000.
Ms Holden said the news was bittersweet – she was being offered a lifeline, but had no way to pay for it.
What happened next was an impressive display of dogged determination from Ms Holden coupled with remarkable generosity from a lot of people.
A fund-raiser was held in Ms Holden’s native Brisbane which raised $27,000.
Then it was largely to generosity of Hunter people – and Lake Macquarie residents and businesses, in particular – that help to get Ms Holden over the line.
The $100,000 was raised by the September deadline, and Ms Holden underwent the surgery on October 3.
It brought instant relief.
“As soon as I woke up after the surgery I had 100 per cent vision restored in my left eye, and I could feel that the pressure was gone and my headache was gone,” she said.
“I had a bit of a cry and Dr Teo came in to see me and we had a photo taken together.”
She said the surgery had gone exactly as Dr Teo had expected.
“I believe Dr Teo is the best of the best,” she said.
And while some of Ms Holden’s most debilitating symptoms have disappeared, others will take time to dissipate.
“I can feel that my brain has swelled – which is expected – and I still get dizzy so they won’t clear me to drive,” she said.
She is having trouble turning her head.
“And I still have no appetite. I’ve lost a few more kilos and that’s their biggest concern at this stage.
“I’m seeing a physiotherapist, a spinal specialist and a nutritionist. My recovery is at a bit of a standstill this week, but that’s normal, and those things can take six, 12 or 18 months to settle down.
“But what I’m going though now is nothing compared to what I had before.”
Ms Holden is not quite ready to resume fullitime care of her daughters, aged 15, 9, 7 and 4. The girls’ grandmothers are continuing in that role.
But “just being a mum” is the thing she’s most looking forward to.
That, and going back to work.
“I really miss adult interactions. I’m looking forward to just having a coffee and a conversation with people again,” she said.
But first, she will return to Sydney for a post-operative consultation with Dr Teo on November 20.
In the meantime, Ms Holden said she continues to reflect on the generosity of locals who have given her a second chance at life.
There are the organisations such as The Men of League, Wangi Lions Club, Toronto Workers Club, and Sleapy’s Day.
And then there are the dozens of local men, women and children who donated whatever they could.
“Every dollar they gave helped to get me there,” Ms Holden said.