NEUROLOGICAL SURGERY

Barbara

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Maestra y entrenadora jubilada, 57 años
Concord, New Hampshire

Barbara Espanol

When Barbara Higgins’ decided to have a baby in her mid-50s, it literally saved her life. But that happy new chapter came after the New Hampshire native’s life was first turned upside-down.

Barbara: A blonde woman with blue eyes on a mountaintop with a bright blue sky behind her.

Before conceiving her son at 57, Barbara was diagnosed with three brain tumors. And sadly, that was soon after her daughter Molly died of her own brain tumor after a local hospital’s misdiagnosis.

Barbara in a pink tank top with the #MollyB hashtag, for her daughter, at the gym.
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So, in 2016 my daughter Molly began experiencing headaches, and after several weeks of headaches, and vomiting, and nausea, we went to the ER and they just refused to do anything. I was demanding “please do a CAT scan, please X-Ray her head”, and they wouldn’t do it. They gave her medicine for a migraine, she fell asleep and never woke up. We found out later an undetected brain tumor at the base of her skull, ruptured and killed her. Had they just done a CAT scan six hours earlier they would’ve taken it out and she would’ve been fine.
“an undetected brain tumor at the base of my daughter Molly’s skull ruptured and killed her…”

Molly died on May 7, 2016. Tragically, it was the day before Mother’s Day.

Barbara at sunset, framed by a mountain range.
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Sunday, May 8th was Mother's Day. Molly was the holiday queen. She was the one that, she just organized everything. Mother's Day was huge for her. I woke up and the first thing I noticed was that the sun was coming up and I just... I thought, "Another day. It's starting. There's no Molly, but that sun's still up. And the wind's still blowing and the cars are on the highway and everyone's going to their Mother's Day brunch. And I'm lying on the living room floor with my heart broke not able to function." It was anger producing at the time. I just was angry. Didn't seem right. The whole world should stop because she's not here anymore. My whole world did.
“I woke up and the first thing I noticed was that the sun was coming up and I just... I thought, There’s no Molly, but that sun’s still up. It didn’t seem right.”

Almost immediately, 56-year-old Barbara felt compelled to have another child.

Barbara on a mountaintop framed by a bright blue sky.

Sadly, having another baby would be difficult for Barbara. Due to a painful chronic nerve condition called trigeminal neuralgia, she was in constant physical pain. Her only relief came from medications that would have been dangerous for an unborn child.

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“So, lots of medicines are okay to take when you're pregnant. And, lots of them are not safe at all. And, the list of medications I was on, you can't take these pills pregnant. None of those drugs are safe for a developing fetus. (And) you couldn't just stop taking, you have to wean off them. So as I started to go down on that, the pain was unbelievable. I'll tell you, it's one of the hardest things I've ever done. You know, I've ran up mountains. I've had babies. I've, you know, done a million things athletically. Lots of painful things in my life.”
“the list of medications I was on...you can’t take these pills pregnant.”

Determined to find a different approach to deal with her chronic condition, a friend recommended Barbara visit Dr. Emad Eskandar, a world-renowned specialist four-and-a-half-hours away at Montefiore Einstein who immediately ordered an MRI. That’s when doctors made a horrific discovery.

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“They saw three tumors in my head. So, that was horrifying. I just thought, you know “what the hell? Why me? You know, like I haven't had enough already?” I have brain tumors, my husband needed a kidney transplant, Molly's dead, and now my poor daughter Gracie was just a basket case, and I just said to Dr. Eskandar, "I just need to fix this as fast as possible." And, he took my hands in his hands, and he said, "you just tell Gracie that we'll take good care of you, and that you're gonna be fine.”
“They saw three tumors in my head. I just thought, ‘Why me? You know, like I haven’t had enough already?’ Molly’s dead, and now my poor daughter Gracie was just a basket case.”

With My Hands in His Hands

And Dr. Eskandar took my hands in his hands, and he said, “you just tell Gracie that we’ll take good care of you, and that you’re gonna be fine.”

Barbara smiling

Dr. Eskandar performed two operations - one to fix Barbara’s nerve pain, and another to remove her tumors.

“A big part of neurosurgery is the planning… there should be no surprises.”

Emad N. Eskandar, MD.

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Dr. Eskandar: Luckily, that went extremely well and she recovered beautifully. A big part of neurosurgery is the planning. I tell people it’s 90 percent planning and 10 percent execution. A good case should be really well thought out. I’ll usually the night before make sure I really look at the films and visualize the entire sequence in my head and, you know, make sure I have everything ready. In essence, there should be no surprises during surgery.
Dr. Emad Eskandar
 
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I will never have any serious medical work done anywhere but Montefiore, ever in my life. It’s the most amazing place. I just feel so lucky, I just feel like the universe somehow sent me there, I was supposed to meet you guys [LAUGH]. I just feel like the medical people at Montefiore are willing to be people first. You know like, I have Dr. Eskandar’s cell phone number in my cell phone, I can text him, and he texts me back, like, he doesn’t ignore it, I’ve never not received a response.
“I will never have any serious medical work done anywhere but Montefiore Einstein.”

Barbara was impressed and profoundly comforted when she received Dr. Eskandar’s personal cell phone number and encouraged to call with any questions or concerns.

“I’ll often give patients my cellphone number… so I’m a mere text or phone call away.”

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Dr. Eskandar: I’ll often give patients my cell phone number so that if they have a question or feel a need to call me, it really reduces that anxiety that patients sometimes have about, “Argh, I can’t reach the doctor. Where is he?” I think just the knowledge that I’m accessible is, I think, incredibly helpful in assuaging some of the anxieties knowing that if the need arose I’m a mere text or phone call away.

Free of the medications she relied on for so long, Barbara’s nerve pain was gone and so were her tumors. But to Barbara, the most miraculous part of her medical journey was just starting.

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In July of 2018, Dr. Eskandar said, “All right, you're good to go. You can try to have your baby now.” So we went through the process and at 57, I found out that I was pregnant. I knew though. I already knew. I could feel it.
“I turned 57 on July 29th, and August 5th is when I found out that I was pregnant.”

On 20th of March, 2021, baby Jack was born.

Baby Jack in a warm beige cable knit sweater.

“I just know I was supposed to do this. My pregnancy and creating Jack was a mission I feel I was supposed to do.”

Barbara Higgins

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“At 12:31, Jack in his entirety came rushing out of my body and that was it, the one push wonder. So he was five pounds and 13 ounces, 18 inches long, just teeny tiny little piece of perfection. I cried, all the people in the room cried. When Jack was placed on my chest, the very first thing he did, and it sort of stunned the room into silence, is he got on his hands and he lifted up his head and looked at me, and I looked at him and they face planted right into my chest. I get chills sometimes. I just know I was supposed to do this. My pregnancy and creating Jack was a mission I feel I was supposed to do and he's here now, and so now I just feel like all I can do is be the best mother I can be and be good to him and teach him what love is and how to be a good person, because he's supposed to do something. And I don't know what it is but I just have to get him ready.”

Grateful Is an Understatement

After such dark time, Barbara Higgins is once again grateful for the sun. And she credits Montefiore Einstein with helping bring her back into the light.

Barbara with baby Jack in a backpack on the mountaintop. Barbara stares into the distance resolutely.
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“I feel relieved. I feel relieved that the sun still came back, even though I admonished it not to. Sunrise is my very, very favorite part of the day. That transition from just darkness, and then suddenly, it's just light enough to almost see. And then before you know it, there are outlines, and then there are colors, and then there's a bit of warmth and then there's the sky, and then there's the sun and it's this beautiful, majestic, I told you I'd come back.”
“I feel relieved that the sun still came back, even though I admonished it not to. The sun rises no matter what, as do I. Montefiore Einstein is a big piece of my sunrise.”
 
Barbara sitting with baby Jack, who is wearing a warm beige sweater, in the mountains at sunset.

Everyday Is a Day to Rise.

Barbara, baby Jack, daughter Gracie, and husband together framed by a mountain range.
Dr. Emad Eskandar

Meet Dr. Emad N. Eskandar

Emad N. Eskandar, MD. MBA

Jeffrey P. Bergstein Professor

Chair of Neurological Surgery
Director of Epilepsy & Facial
Pain Centers

Learn More