The Headache That Changed Everything
Receiving treatment for a brain or spinal tumor is challenging. Now, imagine receiving care from a team that does not speak your native language.
The Northwestern Medicine Hispanic Brain and Spine Tumor Program in Chicago makes life-saving neurological care more accessible for the Hispanic and Latino population by removing cultural and linguistic barriers for patients who speak Spanish.
Guillermo Muñoz Küster discusses the significant role the Hispanic Brain and Spine Tumor Program has played in his life.
When a Headache Turns Serious
Born in Santiago, Chile, and now living in Chicago, Guillermo was getting ready for Christmas Eve activities in Chicago when he started experiencing an oppressive headache that wouldn’t go away, causing him to become nauseous. An avid runner who follows a healthy lifestyle, Guillermo wasn’t sure why he was feeling sick. He had never experienced a headache of this type.
Guillermo called Northwestern Memorial Hospital and was advised to get an MRI, which showed a plum-sized tumor in the back of his brain that was compressing his brainstem. The images alerted physicians to send Guillermo to the Emergency Department right away for more testing and plans for surgical removal.
Less than 24 hours later, on Christmas Day, Guillermo had to cancel his plans to fly to Chile to visit his family for the holidays and instead was wheeled into the operating room where Adam M. Sonabend, MD, neurosurgeon and director of the Hispanic Brain and Spine Tumor Program at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, spent hours removing the tumor from Guillermo’s brain.
After surgery, Guillermo spent two weeks in the hospital and then was transferred to Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, where he continued the recovery process. He did not require additional treatment after surgery, as his tumor was benign and completely removed. Guillermo has made a complete recovery and is now back in his routine, including conducting classical music ensembles and running.
The Importance of Care in Your Language
Led by Dr. Sonabend, a Mexico City native, the Hispanic Brain and Spine Tumor Program aims to provide patients and their family members personalized care in Spanish from diagnosis through treatment. Because of the program, Guillermo was able to understand and discuss his care in his preferred language.
“This allowed me to be able to connect with him under his care, and I was able to learn the proper medical terminology for my condition so that I could accurately share the information with my family in the U.S. and Chile,” says Guillermo.
The Northwestern Medicine Hispanic Brain and Spine Tumor Program is part of the Lou and Jean Malnati Brain Tumor Institute of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center at Northwestern University at Northwestern Memorial 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 who treats patients with brain and spine tumors; and an expert neuro-oncologist, Priya U. Kumthekar, MD. The program also includes Spanish-speaking nurses, medical assistants and phone operators.
“Being in a diverse city with two dominant air transportation hubs and a vibrant Hispanic population in Chicago, I was compelled to start a program that accommodates the Hispanic community and provides world-class care for patients with brain and spinal tumors from all over the world,” says Dr. Sonabend. “With this program, patients will be 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 from a clinician in Spanish at all follow-up appointments and while recovering at the hospital.”
And for that, patients are grateful. Guillermo says, “I count my lucky stars that I was under the care of Dr. Sonabend, and I was able to communicate to him in Spanish.”