Chyna Woods was like many people during the pandemic – busy working from home and looking after her grandmother – until pain between her shoulder blades made sitting in her desk chair unbearable.
“I had extremely excruciating back pain. I couldn’t lie down or sit up for long,” says Woods. “I couldn’t even sit in a car for more than 10 minutes.”
Then her legs and chest began to go numb.
“My body was numb from under my breasts down. I was just deaf. I couldn’t feel my legs. It was scary. It was really scary,” says Woods.
Looking for answers for unexplained back pain
She knew she needed help, so she rushed to the emergency room at Community Regional Medical Center, where she saw Dr. Met Derek Taggard, a board-certified spine and neurosurgeon at Community Health Partners. dr Taggard examined Woods and immediately ordered tests and a biopsy.
“She was determined to have a large tumor that had invaded her spine and was causing compression of her spinal cord, which was the cause of the numbness, but it was also in her chest cavity and behind her heart,” says Dr. Taggard.
Rare, aggressive neuroendocrine tumor
according to dr Taggard, Woods had a paraganglioma — a very rare type of neuroendocrine tumor that involves cells that release hormones into the blood in response to stimulation or pressure on the nervous system. The large tumor also explained her severe back pain.
“I think she probably developed the tumor just in front of the vertebral body [spinal bone] and as it grew it became very locally aggressive and chewed through the lateral hole and through the vertebral body and began to cause compression of her spinal cord,” says Dr. Taggard.
Although there are many types of neuroendocrine tumors, the National Cancer Institute’s Center for Research on Cancer estimates that only two out of every million people have a paraganglioma.
These tumors form, among other things, along large blood vessels and nerves in the head and neck area. Paragangliomas are usually noncancerous — like Wood’s — and are most commonly found in patients between the ages of 30 and 50.
Multidisciplinary support under one roof
dr Taggard recommended surgery to remove the tumor and relieve Wood’s debilitating back pain. But he knew that removing such a complex tumor would require a specialized team approach.
He would remove the tumor from the back of her spine and another surgeon would remove it from the front. To achieve this, Dr. taggard dr Shamsuddin Khwaja, a board-certified cardiothoracic surgeon at Community Medical Centers.
“I thought the best thing for her would be a staged process, meaning the first stage went through her back. We removed the tumor from her spinal cord and performed a fusion with the screws and rods above the level of the tumor and where it entered her spine,” says Dr. Taggard.
Woods had her surgeries at the Community Regional—the first and only hospital in Central California to be designated a Center of Excellence in Neuroscience. dr Taggard removed the tumor from the back of Wood’s spine, and seven months later, Dr. Khwaja the rest of the tumor from the front.
“I don’t think you want a brain surgeon or a spine surgeon to open your chest. Likewise, you don’t want a cardiothoracic surgeon trying to dig a tumor out of your spine. But if we do it together, she got a great result. She had no complications,” says Dr. Taggard.
“Thrive with little to no back pain”
Not having to travel from the Central Valley for this type of state-of-the-art diagnosis, treatment, and care—and thus being able to stay close to home and to her support system—helped ease Wood’s recovery and got her back on her feet.
She has healed from her surgeries and is now thriving with little to no back pain thanks to the team approach of her specialist surgeons Drs. Taggard and Dr. Khwaja, who together successfully removed her entire neuroendocrine tumor.
“She was a pleasure to take care of – she always had the best attitude, is always very positive and optimistic about what will happen next,” says Dr. Taggard.