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Misdiagnosis Could Have Paralyzed Young Screenwriter

My younger brother is an executive producer of the show “Nip/Tuck” and an executive producer of soon-to-air Fox show “Glee.“  Last year, he almost died.

It started when he woke up one day with numbness on one side of his body.

His doctor ordered an MRI. It found bad news: a tumor in his spinal cord, high up in his neck. He was referred to a neurosurgeon.

The plan was straightforward, but dangerous.  First, radiation.  Then, his spinal cord would be carefully cut open to remove the tumor. He was told he could end up paralyzed, or dead.  Concerned, he called me, and we started a case at Best Doctors.

One of our nurses took a history, and we collected his records.  Two internists spent hours reviewing them.  The records noted our family history of a kind of malformed blood vessel.  Our grandfather had hundreds of them in his brain when he died at 101, and our father has dozens of them in his.  I have one in my brain, too. This was in my brother’s charts, but none of his doctors had mentioned it.

An expert in these malformations told us a special imaging study should be done to rule this out as a cause of the problem.  Best Doctors gave that advice to my brother and his doctors.  They agreed.

The test showed this was precisely what he had.

Quickly, the plan changed. He still needed surgery — if the malformation bled, it could also paralyze or kill him.  But there would be no radiation, which might have caused the very bleeding we feared.  Even if that didn’t happen, the surgeons were prepared to operate on a tumor.  They would have been surprised to find a delicate malformation there instead.

In the end, his surgery went well.  He is having a good recovery and is busy with his new show.  But his case is a constant reminder of how important it is to have the right diagnosis, and how easy it is for things to go wrong.

Even in  Hollywood.

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2 Responses to “Misdiagnosis Could Have Paralyzed Young Screenwriter”

  1. Gary Levin says:

    One can never overemphasize a careful and deliberate history.. A castrophe was avoided.

  2. Evan Falchuk says:

    Indeed, Gary.

    Many doctors do excellent histories. Ironically, his PCP had collected the very information that was so critical to his case.

    The trouble starts with a failure to put all the pieces together.

    Putting pieces together is hard, and takes time, something very undervalued in our system.


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