Megan Courtney

It was December 2006. We sat inside a small, cramped room in the Radiology department at Cincinnati Children’s—my mom behind me and my dad to my left. I had just experienced my first MRI in this unfamiliar place. It seemed like it lasted an eternity. A man in a white coat was pointing at an illuminated black-and-white image of my spine and neck. At 12 years old, it’s hard to understand the gravity of any situation, let alone a life-threatening one. “She’s going to need surgery,” the man said. I saw a single teardrop roll down my dad’s right cheek just before he was able to wipe it away. I didn’t know it at the time, but those five words would change my life. I was about 11 years old when I started experiencing painful headaches. It felt like all the pressure my body could muster was absorbed directly into my head at once. But the worst part was the lingering, painful aftermath. Within seconds following the rush, I felt throbbing pressure and soreness, sometimes so unbearable that I didn’t want to move. In the beginning, the headaches were usually triggered by bending over to pick something up or standing up too fast. Over time, it was brought on by something as simple as laughing, coughing, or sneezing. Understandably, my parents began to worry, and they scheduled a doctor visit. After a referral from my childhood pediatrician, we stood in that tiny room, while the doctor delivered the verdict. He said I suffered from Chiari malformation—Type 1, although the surgeon deemed it much more serious after the procedure. This condition develops at birth when the bottom part of the brain extends through the spinal canal and usually goes unnoticed until adolescence or adulthood. My having Chiari also caused the development of syringomyelia, which are fluid-filled cysts on the spine. The decompression procedure itself takes about 3 to 4 hours, while a majority of the initial rehabilitation and healing takes around a month. Today, in my role as a team lead for Concierge Services under Family Relations, I am a regular in the Radiology department and frequent visitor to the Neurosurgery floor. I usually get a feeling of nostalgia or a quick flashback of my personal experiences here while I am working, and I am very fortunate they are all fairly positive, considering the circumstances. It’s a true honor to speak so passionately and honestly about Cincinnati Children’s, because it holds such a special place in my heart—as a former patient and also an employee. And although there are so many benefits to working here, there has been no better feeling than telling the mother of a Chiari patient that I know first-hand their child is going to be taken care of, and I am living proof of that. Experiences like that truly make me believe this is why I am here.

--Megan Courtney Concierge Services associate, Family Relations

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