Stories of Courage

There are many, many stories of courage from patients at The Pencer Centre. Each month we’ll include a new story from one of our patients, so please bookmark this page and visit often for a new ‘story of courage.’

Appreciation for Life
by Karlene Nation, Reporter and Producer, CTV Television, Toronto

I have a new found appreciation for life these days. I take nothing for granted. I’m happy to wake up to a new day and grateful to be alive.

Six years ago I woke up and discovered that I was blind. It was the most frightening moment of my life. Hours later, doctors were in a race against the clock to try to save my life after they discovered I had a brain tumor. It happened on Saturday, July 25th, 1998. The events on that day are permanently seared in my brain. I headed into work at CTV Television where I work as a reporter and producer. I was on an assignment with cameraman Jeff Wood, chasing leads for a story about a mid-town house fire.

But something wasn't right. I had been experiencing a maddening headache for five days. This was the sixth day and the headache had gotten progressively worse. I popped Tylenols to try to dull the throbbing pain to no avail.

It literally felt like my eyes were being pushed out of the sockets. I thought I was going to pass out. Jeff had to drive me home. Fortunately, my mother Veta Robinson was home. My mom, who is a nurse, took one look at me and rushed me to Oakville Trafalgar Hospital. The doctors asked how long I had been experiencing this headache. I told them five to six days. I mentioned I was involved in a hot air balloon accident five days prior.

I was assigned to cover a hot air balloon festival in Milton a week before the headaches started. The hot air balloon ride was incredible. That is, until we hit turbulence. The heavy wind thrashed the balloon about from side to side and before we knew it, the balloon literally fell out of the sky, with me screaming my head off. I thought I was going to die. The balloon bounced up and down a few times before coming to a stop. I remember banging my head a couple of times on the side of the basket. I thought I was ok when I came out of the basket, but the headache started two days after this incident.

An x-ray revealed that there was a huge mass at the base of my skull on the right side of my head. The doctors ordered an ambulance to take me to Toronto Western Hospital, which specializes in neurosurgery.

I awoke to find myself in an MRI machine. The MRI revealed that I had a pituitary brain tumor. It's a very common benign brain tumor that is usually easily removed. But in my case - everything that could go wrong with the tumor went wrong. It was bleeding rapidly in my head and eventually cut off my eyesight. My sister Annette, discovered that I was blind. I could feel her face - but couldn't see her.

The doctors rushed me into the operating room. They told my family it was very unlikely I would regain my sight. My neurosurgeon said once a patient loses their sight prior to surgery, the chances of them recovering their sight are slim to none. My family started to pray for me. I woke up hours after the surgery, flicked open my eyes and miracle of miracles - I could see. I could see my mom, my sisters Annette and Ninia and my son Jan-Michael Nation. We all burst into tears of happiness. But the happiness was short lived. My doctor discovered a major problem with my sight. They discovered I had double vision and I had lost all of my peripheral vision. I had, in effect, lost 50 percent of my sight and was seeing two of everything all the time. I was told that this condition would not improve. I would remain this way for the rest of my life. I barely had a chance to absorb this disturbing information when I contracted meningitis in the hospital. My doctors discovered that I had a hole in my head. I couldn't believe it. “What do you mean I have a hole in my head" I demanded.

The doctors said it came about after my operation to remove the brain tumor. I had to undergo yet another operation to close this hole in my head. Doctors sliced my upper thigh, took tissue from my leg and stuffed it in my head to close the hole. I often joke that I have foot in head problems.

After three months in the hospital and almost a year of recovery - I finally went back to work as a reporter and producer at CTV. I look back at this experience and quite frankly would not change any of it. I'm not happy about losing my sight but I'm grateful that I can see even though my sight isn't perfect.

This experience has made me very strong. I was always a strong person with great inner strength. But this experience has shown me that I can survive just about anything.

Life often throws us curves and we have to find a way to deal with these challenges. I feel blessed to have such an amazing family. I could not have pulled through this ordeal without my mother, sisters and my son. They are my rock.

Life is good, life is great. We must appreciate and be grateful for every new day.