Miracle man recovers after life-saving brain operation
PUBLISHED: 17:00 27 November 2019 | UPDATED: 08:45 28 November 2019
A retired director has recalled the simple joy of recognising his family again after a life-saving brain operation which risked erasing his most cherished memories.
Mike Britch, who lives in Wacton, near Long Stratton, has made a miraculous recovery after a potentially-fatal tumour was extracted from the base of his brain.
Surgeons at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge removed a "cake slice" from inside his skull after the extremely rare cancer was discovered in his hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory.
The 61-year-old, who retired as managing director of facilities management firm Norse Group last year, was warned the surgery could affect his cognitive abilities or other vital brain functions.
But he said it was a "no-brainer" to go ahead, as the tumour risked causing more life-threatening seizures like the ones which had led to his diagnosis.
After waking from the operation in June, he was immensely relieved to find he could still recognise his wife Lorraine and daughter Sophie, he was still able to play the piano - and all his treasured memories remained intact.
"That was such a relief," he said. "All my senses were working, I could move my limbs and I could remember things. I could remember my past and seeing my wife and daughter the previous day and I thought that was really good news, because it means it hasn't affected my memory and I was looking forward to seeing my wife and daughter again. Within minutes they appeared and it was the greatest moment in my life."
The six-hour procedure involved a large U-shaped incision in the scalp and a "plug" cut out of the skull to allow high-tech instruments access to the brain, guided with two MRI scanners to locate and extract the tumour.
Mr Britch's tumour was a type of cancer which usually only affects young children and is very rarely found in adults. Due to its extreme rarity, tissue samples have been sent for analysis by researchers in the USA and across Europe.
It was initially discovered after he suffered a series of alarming seizures which were initially thought to be heart-related. But the family sought a private MRI scan which resulted in an immediate referral from the Norwich and Norfolk University Hospital to specialists at Addenbrooke's.
Although a biopsy taken after the surgery showed it to be slow-growing Stage 1 cancer, its dangerous position meant it could prompt more seizures which could possibly impact on the functions of his heart and lungs - so it had to be removed immediately.
Mr Britch, said he owed much to the skills of the "fantastic" surgery team.
"They do tell you the risk, but it was a risk you have to take," he said. "One of those seizures could have killed me at any point so you want to get the damn thing out as quickly as possible."
Mr Britch was back at home two days after his operation, and he said the only physical effect was "a strange fizzing sensation in my head". He added: "It was like someone shaking a can of Coke in my head every so often. But throughout all this I never had a headache."
After his recovery Mr Britch has become chairman of Age UK in Norwich - part of his desire "to put something back" into the voluntary sector.
"Without a doubt, all of this has made me think about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life," he said. "I've been incredibly lucky."
Mr Britch's daughter Sophie recalled the moment when the family's weeks of anxiety and uncertainty came to an end.
"We had to be prepared that when he came round from the operation there could potentially be some very severe memory problems, he might not recognise us or there could be a personality change," she said.
"He went down at 9.30am and we were told to call back at 4pm, so Mum and I had gone into Cambridge town centre, thinking we have to find something to do to take our minds off it. We have a family WhatsApp message group and both of our phones pinged at the same time and we were both standing in the middle of this shop looking at each other saying: 'It must be dad'. "We couldn't believe he had actually just 'WhatsApped' us to say 'I'm back on the ward'.
"It is probably the weirdest message I have ever received, and the one I have been most glad to receive as well.
"I have never felt relief like that before. I was just so pleased and grateful. It is miraculous."
Following her father's recovery Sophie said it was important to raise awareness of brain tumours, and the difficulty in diagnosing them.
"This has all made me realise that brain tumours don't have conventional symptoms where you get a bit of a headache and start feeling ill," she said. "It is very common that they are initially misdiagnosed because they masquerade as all sorts of things.
"I read about a little boy who got referred to counselling by his school because they thought he had behavioural problems when actually he had a full-on brain tumour. So there is this movement to educate people that brain tumours are something you need to be aware of.
"If your gut feeling is that something is wrong then don't be deterred and seek a second opinion if you have to, because it could be the real difference between life and death. That perseverance is very important."
- Sophie Britch is organising a charity sheepdog trial on December 28 to raise money for the Addenbrooke's Charitable Trust. For more details see her charity event Facebook page.