St. Clair Shores woman undergoes incredible third surgery for rare bone cancer

Her heart sank. After two surgeries and many years, Mary Ann Jarrett's aggressive, bone tumor reappeared. The cancer at the base of her skull had to be removed. But, because of scarring and complications from previous procedures, most surgeons thought the tumor could no longer be reached from the base of her skull. If the tumor continued to grow, eventually it would compress her spinal column killing her.

That was until Mary Ann, 55, of St. Clair Shores, conferred with Beaumont surgeons. They agreed - the only option to access her tumor was through her mouth. The team, including: Daniel Pieper, M.D., Kongkrit Chaiyasate, M.D., and Jefrey Fishman, M.D., explained they could reach her tumor by splitting her face. This high-risk procedure would allow access to the tumor at the back of her throat.

Explains Mary Ann, "I knew if I didn't have the surgery, I would die."

In 1999, Mary Ann, a former Beaumont nurse anesthetist, was diagnosed with chondrosarcoma. This rare form of bone cancer caused her severe neck pain, which worsened with the use of her left arm. Given the location of the tumor, on the bone of her cervical spine, surgery was her only option.

She underwent her first procedure in October 1999. However, because of the tumor's location, it grew back, forcing Mary Ann to travel to New York for her second major surgery in 2006.

It wasn't until her husband began receiving treatment at Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak, that she was introduced to Daniel Pieper, M.D., director, Neuro-Oncology, Beaumont, Royal Oak.

"After learning of Mary Ann's condition, I knew a third surgery to remove the tumor was her only option," says Dr. Pieper. "Few surgical teams in the country can perform the procedure she needed, and without it, she would die." The technique, which entails splitting the lower jaw and tongue in half, and removing the tumor through the back of the throat, also required a craniofacial team.

"It is exactly what it sounds like - literally splitting the face in half to remove the tumor," explains Dr. Pieper. "And the only way the procedure is successful is if both surgeons understand each other's specialty." For this reason, Dr. Pieper called upon the expertise of Kongkrit Chaiyasate, M.D., director, Reconstructive Microsurgery, Beaumont, Royal Oak.

"Dr. Pieper came to me and asked if I could get him to the tumor," recalls Dr. Chaiyasate. "I've worked with him on past cases, and I knew we could help this patient if we worked together."

This complex surgery posed many concerns. "I had heard of the procedure before, but I was still horrified to learn I needed to have it done," recalls Mary Ann. "I was petrified of possible complications." She underwent her third surgery on June 22, 2012. It lasted 13 hours.

"Along with splitting the jaw and tongue, the surgery required placing transplanted tissue from her forearm to the back of her throat," says Dr. Chaiyasate. "Each of her past operations presented complications and required radiation treatment afterward. This procedure was no different."

After extensive therapy and work with a speech pathologist, Mary Ann is able to eat, talk, and swallow again, three things she feared never being able to do after surgery.

"I was amazed myself with the results," says Dr. Chaiyasate.

Now, Mary Ann will need a scan every six months in order to monitor the tumor for an additional recurrence, a process which will last for years. "We will continue to follow this tumor for preventive measures, but her prospects look very promising," says Dr. Pieper.

Says Mary Ann, "I'm so grateful to be alive."