Paul X. English, III's Story

Mr. English sat down with the Quiñones lab's Liron Noiman and David Purger to candidly describe his experiences as a brain tumor patient

Paul English considers himself an incredibly lucky man. "Lucky" might not be the word one would ascribe to a man who went to work on a seemingly normal day and ended up in the hospital with doctors telling him they had found a brain tumor. Nor is "lucky" the word you think of when Mr. English tells you that less than one year after the initial surgery to remove the tumor, doctors performed a second surgery to find out why the resection site wasn't healing properly and discovered that he had contracted MRSA. But Mr. English doesn't see it that way. "My attitude is that after having a brain tumor and walking out of Hopkins, everything else was icing on the cake! And I figured that these circumstances have been lined up for me--I'm sitting here in Baltimore, I'm in the backyard of Johns Hopkins and I met this surgical team and within 32 days, they're taking this thing out--that there can be nothing but a positive outcome. And people said, 'are you scared?' and I said, 'No, I'm not scared. I can't imagine that these circumstances have aligned themselves in such a manner that there is not going to be a positive outcome.' And I just kept exuding that." We sat down with Mr. English last month to talk to him about his experiences pre- and post- surgery, and realized that while luck and fate play a role in bringing about favorable outcomes, a certain degree of responsibility falls upon the individual to tip the odds in favor of bringing about the results one would like to see.

On a regular day in July 2006, Paul English was working in downtown Baltimore when he started to feel the onset of an ophthalmic migraine. Since Mr. English had experienced these sorts of headaches since his teenage years, he wrote it off as nothing more than a migraine and waited for the pain to subside. However, when he also started feeling numbness on the left side of his face and body, Mr. English had his coworkers call 911. Upon doing a CT scan, doctors at Mercy Hospital discovered a meningioma. Soon after, Mr. English met with neurosurgeon Dr. Clifford Solomon in Annapolis who corroborated the diagnosis at Mercy and suggested that Mr. English send his scans over to Dr. Quiñones at Johns Hopkins. That same night, around 9:30 PM, Mr. English got a phone call: "Hello, Mr. English, this is Dr. Quiñones. I'm so sorry to be calling you so late, but I just got out of the operating room! I'm looking at your scans and I know you are very concerned about this! I want you to know that I've seen cases like yours before and I would like to meet with you."

And with that phone call came the beginning of a relationship that Mr. English characterized in four short words: "Oh, it's a trip!" Reflecting on the relationship that has since developed between the two men, Mr. English claims to "feel as if there is a relationship that has gone much beyond just a doctor and a patient. There's a personal connection that comes into his relationship with his patients--the old-school term for it was 'bedside manner.' Well, this is more than a bedside manner."

Dr. Q's warm personality wasn't the only trait that made Mr. English feel at east. Mr. English recalls when Dr. Q sat with him and his family to discuss the risks and potential complications of surgery for the "first and last time," unless Mr. English explicitly asked to revisit these issues. Dr. Quiñones' insistence to "focus on the positive outcome that will happen" was a huge source of support for Mr. English. Ultimately, Mr. English explains that "just knowing the competence of the hands around" allowed him to "completely surrender" himself to the hands of everyone who was caring for him. Mr. English was fortunate enough to have several competent pairs of supporting hands around him--not only the physicians and physician assistants, who he acknowledges went above and beyond his expectations--but also his family and friends, who offered a wide support system throughout his care. "I found out, and I didn't know it going in, how many friends I had!" Mr. English recalled the vast amount of care and concern that flooded his and his family's email inboxes and the huge prayer network that he, his family and friends maintained. And all these sources of support--the medical team, family, friends and God--were what allowed Mr. English to intently focus all his energy on getting through surgery and recovery.

That being said, Mr. English stresses that surrendering yourself to a medical team, family members and higher powers does not mean that patients should become complacent; rather, it is absolutely necessary for patients to play an active role in questioning, understanding and preparing for surgery and post-operative recovery. He stresses the importance of "being vigilant as a patient and recognizing that you've got a job to do! Your job is the patient and you have to prepare yourself and you must do what the medical team has advised you to do to get ready. There's not a 'woe is me, why is this happening to me?, oh well, they've got to do all this suff for me.' There's a lot of work that the patient has to do, and it's all between the ears--not only the target of what has to get fixed, but you've got to get right in your mind about this and you've got to believe that you're going to come out better after this."

And "better" is certainly how Mr. English came out on the other side of brain surgery. His wonderful outcome has inspired him to ask "How did this happen? How did I have such a great outcome? And will everybody else have one? And you realize very quickly that of course not everyone does. All right, then what can we do to up the odds in their favor?" What Mr. English decided to do was to lend financial support both to "Angels of the OR," a non-profit organization established by Dr. Clifford Solomon and Dr. Ben Carson that seeks to enable access of under-privileged individuals to neurosurgical care, and to Dr. Quiñones' Brain Tumor Stem Cell Laboratory. In addition to his generous contribution to fund our research against brain cancer, Mr. English also consented to donate a piece of his brain tumor to our lab--valuable tissue that can serve as a comparison between benign and malignant tissue to aid in our understanding of what molecularly defines "malignancy." Cumulatively, Mr. English's financial and biological contributions are how he sets out "to maximize the opportunity for other people to experience the wonderful experience I had. I want to tilt the odds in their favor. I want to do anything I can to help the person who takes my place as a patient to have a better edge on the outcome that I had."

As far as advice to other patients, Mr. English's words are short and sweet: "envision a positive outcome and work towards it." This approach to life has gotten Mr. English through a difficult chapter in his life, and he continues to apply it each and every day along his jouney.