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A revolutionary surgery

Baraga man recovering well after brain tumor removed

August 23, 2012
By ZACH KUKKONEN - DMG writer ( , The Daily Mining Gazette

BARAGA - Robert Hockins doesn't look like a man who had surgery to have a brain tumor removed just a few weeks ago.

Sitting on the couch of his home, Hockins is able to move around relatively freely and sports only a tiny scar above his eye. He's a long way away from his original recommended course of action, which was removing the tumor through an open craniotomy a procedure which would have possibly required almost a week in intensive care, six weeks in the hospital and numerous weeks of therapy.

Hockins' story begins at Baraga Maximum Security Prison, his place of employment as a supervisor. After a prisoner went after one of the officers, Hockins helped get the prisoner off the officer, but received a blow to the head for his troubles. After being stitched up, Hockins thought he was doing OK, but five days later started getting terrible headaches.

Article Photos

Zach Kukkonen/Daily Mining Gazette
Robert Hockins is seen at his home. Hockins recently had a brain tumor removed at the Skull Base Institute in California using a minimally invasive procedure, of which only left a tiny scar above his right eyebrow.

"They diagnosed me with a concussion, and three days after that my headaches were so bad I ended up in the ER," Hockins said. "They then did a CT scan and were looking for bleeding, which they didn't find, but they did find a tumor."

The tumor was discovered to be benign, and neurologists originally planned to just keep an eye on the tumor. Hockins wasn't satisfied with that answer, however, and received a second opinion from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

"The neurologist said, 'I think we should have it removed because it's just going to get worse,'" Hockins said. "His recommendation was to do an open craniotomy."

Staring at a long, painful recovery, Hockins decided to do a little research on alternative options. In his research, he came across the Skull Base Institute in California, which specializes in minimally invasive procedures.

"Of all the places I looked at, the Skull Base Institute seemed to have the most experience working with minimally invasive procedures," Hockins said. "The man that does the surgery out there ... invented a lot of the minimally invasive techniques used today.

"Everyone else uses a microscope and he uses fiber optics ... which gives him a three-dimensional image rather than a two-dimensional image," Hockins continued. "He also uses acoustic suction, a vibrating tip that breaks up flesh into little particles ... so it's a lot cleaner, it's a lot more gentle and it's more precise."

Hockins ended up contacting the doctor, Hyayr Shahinian, and set up the consultation. The rest of the process happened quite fast, as he had the consultation Monday, was admitted to the hospital Tuesday evening, had the surgery for six hours Wednesday, was walking around Thursday and was released Friday. The doctors also kept his wife constantly updated with his condition, as she received a call about every hour or so with a progress report.

"They kept the family posted really nice," Hockins said.

While his head is sore, he has to sleep sitting up for three weeks and he lost of his eyebrow for the surgery, those are certainly side effects he will take.

"If they (had done the open craniotomy), I would've lost my sense of smell and taste," Hockins said.

The surgery may not have been cheap, but Hockins said it saved money in the long run and was a much better solution.

"When you look at the total picture, the ICU is 50 grand a day, a hospital stay just on the floor is thousands a day, therapy is expensive and with lost work time, it's really financially a bargain," Hockins said.



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