Katherine's slow, miraculous recovery
Katherine Wolf approaches the second-floor landing of a friend's Culver City home.
From on high, she sounds out a greeting in a strained but pronounced voice, before lightly descending the curved staircase to the living room.
Each move is aided by her husband, Jay, who is 27. He walks backwards, one step ahead, supporting Katherine's slight frame with every cautious stride.
Like most things in Katherine's life now, it is a slow but steady dance - and, by all accounts, a miraculous one, too.
A little more than a year ago, Katherine, then 26, collapsed in her family's Malibu apartment; She had suffered a massive hemorrhagic stroke after an artereo-venous malformation, or AVM, ruptured in her right cerebellum and brain stem....
FLOSSMOOR | On Dec. 13, 2006, U.S. Senator Tim Johnson suddenly began stuttering and became disoriented. Later that day, he had emergency surgery to repair bleeding inside his brain.
The 60-year-old Johnson, who still has not returned to the Senate, is undergoing speech therapy and using a wheelchair. If he resigns and South Dakota’s Republican governor appoints his replacement, control of the Senate would shift from Democrats to Republicans.
Johnson’s brain hemorrhage was caused by an arteriovenous malformation. An AVM usually is present at birth, but is almost always undiagnosed until there is a hemorrhage. AVMs in the brain or spinal cord affect about 300,000 Americans and kill about 3,000 per year.
An AVM nearly killed a senator and may cause a power shift, but Homewood-Flossmoor senior Ashley Berner plays soccer with it. She was told shortly after a March 29 angiogram that two surgeries could cure the AVM, but she postponed them until June to help her team.
Berner remembers vividly what she thought when she was diagnosed on March 12 and told to stop all physical activity.
“I was nervous and scared,” she said. “I instantly thought about soccer because (the doctor) said I couldn’t play until I talked to more doctors. … I was very upset that I couldn’t practice. I wanted to be out there.”
The 18-year-old Berner is fortunate she was diagnosed.
Berner only went to a doctor this winter because athletes must pass physicals each season. Soccer is her passion. Last season, she became a star, scoring 18 goals — second-best on the Vikings — and making the Times All-Area team.
“She’s a difference-maker when she plays for us,” H-F coach Todd Elkei said.
While in the doctor’s office, Berner mentioned she had been having headaches. An MRI on March 3 revealed something abnormal in her brain.
“I was scared,” Ashley’s mother, Irene, said. “(My husband Philip and I) were very concerned about Ashley and didn’t want her to do anything that would put her in harm’s way and risk her health.”
The MRI led to the March 12 diagnosis of an AVM, a tangle of tiny veins and arteries that forces blood to flow straight back to the heart before it can bring oxygen and nutrients to the tissues.
Berner’s headaches probably were unrelated to the AVM, said Dr. Thomas Grobelny of the Chicago Institute of Neurosurgery and Neuroresearch.
Berner resumed practicing after a March 22 appointment with Grobelny. On March 29, she had an angiogram as dye was injected into her brain to ascertain how the AVM should be treated. It showed that the AVM was in the cerebellum.
“A hemorrhage in that area can be deadly,” Grobelny said.
Grobelny told Berner that she probably would need two operations to get rid of the AVM.
Many people postpone surgeries for decades, but Grobelny said there is a 1-to-2 percent risk each year of a hemorrhagic stroke. Ashley decided to act sooner rather than later because AVM patients’ risk of hemorrhage increases as they age.
“I want to get this out of the way so I don’t have to worry anymore,” Berner said.
Her first operation, an embolization, is slated for June 19 and should reduce the AVM’s size significantly. If it’s not eliminated, she will have gamma knife radiation surgery several weeks later. This surgery cures more than 90 percent of AVMs, Grobelny said.
Ashley could have had the embolization in April, but she chose soccer despite the risk of hemorrhage.
“I decided that I wanted to play my senior season,” she said. “I love the girls. We have an amazing team and we have a lot of potential this year. (Dr. Grobelny) said if soccer is what I love to do, I should go on with it.”
Grobelny said a lack of symptoms convinced him that an April operation was not needed.
“I don’t think she should stop enjoying doing what she is doing,” he said.
H-F’s season started on March 30. Berner missed one game.
“I was fired up to get out there,” she said. “I wasn’t conditioned properly. I went as hard as I could, but I pulled my calf.”
Teammates Maggie Hoskin and Zoe Lubeck said they were inspired by Berner’s return. Hoskin said her demeanor improved the second Berner stepped back onto the field.
“The whole team admires how determined she is to keep playing,” Lubeck said. “Most people who got that news would give up. Ashley just kept on playing.”
Berner didn’t score until H-F’s ninth game. She said the angiogram wasn’t a factor, but two weeks of no practice was. She played for shorter periods because she was out of shape.
“I was just getting back into the groove,” Berner said of her slow start. “I wasn’t that concerned.”
In the last month, Berner’s form has returned. She is fourth on the 16-4-1 team with seven goals and seven assists, and she has scored the winning goal twice.
She still has headaches, but Grobelny said 98 percent of them are not a serious medical problem. Ashley said she almost never thinks about her upcoming operations.
“It’s not a main concern right now,” she said. “I’ll worry about it when I get closer.”
Excused me!!! Maybe I'm missing some thing... but she put off brain surgery to play soccer...
WTF! Go and get your brain operated on. You don't want to end up DEAD!
I aint got nuther say...