Providing Personalized Care in Spanish to Brain and Spine Tumor Patients

Northwestern Medicine
Neurosciences November 13, 2019

Vanessa Padelford-Olivares was jotting down a grocery list in her Mexico City home when suddenly, she could no longer write. The 45-year-old wife and mother of three was also experiencing headaches and memory loss, so she went to the doctor. Scans and a biopsy revealed Padelford-Olivares had stage IV brain cancer that could not be removed.

“We were completely shocked,” says her husband, Homero Pedrero. “We were one day away from moving into a new house, and this diagnosis was the last thing we expected. But, we had renewed hope when the doctor told us, ‘you need to go to Northwestern Medicine.’”

Padelford-Olivares traveled from Mexico City to Chicago, where she was treated at the newly established Northwestern Medicine Hispanic Brain and Spine Tumor Program. Led by neurosurgeon and Mexico City native Adam Sonabend, MD, the program makes lifesaving neurological care more accessible for the Hispanic and Latino population by removing cultural, linguistic barriers to patients who speak Spanish.

“As a diverse city with two dominant air transportation hubs, and a vibrant Hispanic population, I was compelled to start a program in Chicago that accommodates the local and international Hispanic community and provides world-class care for patients with brain and spinal tumors,” says Dr. Sonabend. “Patients and families are able to pick up the phone to schedule an appointment in Spanish, understand their diagnosis and treatment options, and undergo treatment and surgery including brain mapping for language in the operating room in Spanish. They also receive care by a clinician in Spanish at all follow-up appointments and while recovering at the hospital.” 

Along with Dr. Sonabend, the multidisciplinary team includes Jean-Paul Wolinsky, MD, a neurosurgical expert in spine tumors; Roger Stupp, MD, a world-renowned neuro-oncologist and medical director of the Lou and Jean Malnati Brain Tumor Institute at Northwestern Medicine; and Priya Kumthekar, MD, an expert neuro-oncologist. The program also includes Spanish speaking nurses, medical assistants, clinical registration staff and phone operators.

“From diagnosis to treatment, our goal is to provide personalized care in Spanish to our patients and their family, but it also goes beyond language,” says Dr. Sonabend. “It’s really about being culturally sensitive; people from different cultures may have specific needs for communicating with their physicians. We want to adapt our team to best accommodate these needs.”

Padelford-Olivares underwent months of chemotherapy and tumor-treating electrical field treatment, coordinated by Dr. Stupp in collaboration with her doctors back home in Mexico. After months of treatment and coordinated care, Dr. Sonabed was then able to safely remove the orange-sized tumor from Vanessa’s brain. Treatment was finally completed with a combination of chemotherapy and radiation delivered by Sean Sachdev, MD, a radiation oncologist exclusively dedicated to treating brain tumors at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

“What makes this program so special is its integrated multidisciplinary and international collaboration. Vanessa had access to leading-edge oncology and neurosurgical care, while being able to spend most of her time in her hometown; a concept that can support patients both in the Greater Chicago area or from many other places in the United States and even internationally,” says Dr. Stupp. “We wanted to treat Vanessa with a modern approach and think outside the box. She responded nicely to therapy and is now able to return home. We’ll continue to monitor her progress regularly.”

“I feel very grateful to be treated at Northwestern Medicine,” says Padelford-Olivares. “I’m excited to return home and be with my three children again, but Chicago will always have a special place in my heart. I now consider it my second home.”

The Northwestern Medicine Hispanic Brain and Spine Tumor Program also provides one-on-one support with a care team member who assists in travel plans, airfare, hotel accommodations, and connecting the patient and family with places of worship, if desired. 

For more information or to schedule an appointment, visit and a Spanish-speaking team member will respond. For immediate assistance, call 312.926.3576. 


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