Around Broadneck: Local woman finds another way to 'give back'

By WENDI WINTERS, For The Capital
Capital Gazette Communications
Published 12/27/10

Baby, it's c-c-cold outside! Let's cheer the holidays while we look forward to the warm summer months ahead in 2011.

One of the area's summertime highlights is the annual Cape St. Claire Strawberry Festival. Nineteen years ago, the festival had ceased to exist. It was hard to find volunteers willing to run the mammoth effort. The festival officially began in 1963, an offspring of earlier beauty pageants, carnivals and festivals that heralded the start of the summer season in the Annapolis area.

Mary Lamb, who graduated from Broadneck High School in 1975, was dismayed. She and husband Jim had recently given birth to their only child, Shelby. They worried their daughter wouldn't have a strawberry festival to look forward to, so they set about reviving it.

In 1995, the Strawberry Festival was reborn. Mary, with Jim and Shelby's help, has orchestrated the event every year since. The festival draws thousands of folks to the Main Beach at Cape St. Claire to enjoy the sunshine, surf, oceans of fun things to do, live bands to listen to, and things to eat, buy or play with during the daylong event.

Shelby is no longer an infant. She is a pre-med student, majoring in biology and neurosciences at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Mary and Jim are longtime county employees. Mary is the street light coordinator in the Traffic Engineering Department, and Jim is in the Waste Management Department. Each year, they use their vacation days to plan the festival.

The funds generated from the Strawberry Festival go towards the festival's expenses, including payment for permits and live entertainment, beachfront improvements and to help fund community events like the Santa Breakfast, the new Safety Awareness Day held in October, the Halloween Happening party and the annual Easter Egg Hunt.

Did I mention Mary organizes those events, too?

Mary, a 25-year resident of the Cape, has also served for many years on the board of the Cape St. Claire Improvement Association, the community's governing organization.

So, it was a shock two years ago to learn Mary had a brain tumor.

In July 2008, she went to the eye doctor for a routine, annual eye exam - something she urges every adult to do - and the doctor suggested an optomap retinal eye exam, a non-invasive way to look at her retinas. The test results showed an unusual swelling of the optic nerve for her right eye. Within an hour, she was in another doctor's office.

A CAT scan followed. The next morning, yet another doctor sent her to have an MRI. Several doctors who were involved in her case all had differing opinions about what was causing the swelling; some wanted to watch and wait, one wanted to operate right away, but couldn't guarantee she'd still be able to see afterwards.

Eventually, Dr. Prem Subramanian, a neuro-opthamologist at Johns Hopkins Hospital, took on her case. He gathered a team to figure out what was wrong. Neurosurgeon Dr. Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa handled her surgery.

"If I didn't have it, I'd be dead," Mary said bluntly. Quiñones-Hinojosa removed a non-cancerous menengioma tumor the size of an orange from her head. It fed on the thin membrane covering her brain tissue. As the tumor grew, it pushed her brain aside and pressed on her optic nerve, gradually squeezing off her eyesight.

Preparing for the worst, Mary drafted her will and wrote farewell letters to her family members and friends. During the surgery, Mary's skull was cut from her eyebrow to just behind her right ear.

Thanks to the timely operation, Mary has completely recovered. With her family, she'll celebrate her 23rd wedding anniversary on New Year's Eve and her birthday on Jan. 8.

Before her surgery and during her four-month, post-surgical recovery period, Mary learned about the doctor who saved her life.

Working 19-hour days, Quiñones-Hinojosa, known as Dr. Q, is a renowned neurosurgeon, researcher and professor at Johns Hopkins. When he is not in surgery or consulting his patients, Dr. Q is working with a team of doctors, medical students and other scientists on several projects to discover the causes of brain tumors - benign like Mary's and cancerous ones - in hopes of finding ways to eradicate them.

"I'm doing this for your children and my children," he told Mary during her visits to his office, "so they don't have to go through this invasive surgery."

Dr. Q, born in Mexico, was an illegal immigrant who entered the U.S. in the 1970s as a teenaged farm worker who spoke no English. He worked in California to support his destitute family back home. A series of English courses at a community college led to attending University of California at Berkley on a scholarship. He eventually graduated from Harvard Medical School and delivered the commencement speech at his graduation. While in med school, he became a U.S. citizen.

Though she does a lot for the community, Mary is grateful to Dr. Q and is doing something to "give back."