Teenager sees the best in brain tumour scare

MOTIVATION: Miller Macarthy with a picture of himself after brain surgery.
MOTIVATION: Miller Macarthy with a picture of himself after brain surgery.

It was the kind of thing you would see in a movie or on television, but it was a real-life drama for Miller Macarthy.

You'd never know it from the permanent grin on his face, but the 15-year-old Nelson College student underwent life-threatening surgery less than a year ago.

Miller was your typical teenage boy who enjoyed playing sports, namely speed skating and inline hockey, when he began having dizzy spells.

In Spain three or four years ago, Miller had noticed the side of his face become numb and tingly. However doctors were unable to figure out what was wrong.

"Then [last year] I did a backflip and got really dizzy and felt sick, and then I started getting really bad headaches at the back of my head."

After an MRI scan, doctors were able to see a large mass.

"I never thought it could be a tumour. You're just a normal kid going in, then I came out and Mum was almost crying.

"When they told me, I was like ‘far out', because you only ever see that in movies or TV, and now it's happening to you. It's pretty crazy."

Mum Sharon Macarthy said they were flown to Christchurch later that day.

The mass turned out to be an eight-centimetre neurilemmoma (benign tumour) around the trigeminal nerve, which is responsible for sensation in the face and certain motor functions such as biting, chewing and swallowing.

"It was a huge shock when we came out of the MRI. There were virtually no symptoms, he'd have a headache in the morning, but I'd come home at night and he'd have his mates around and be fine.

"Normally when they pick up tumours, symptoms start when the tumour is usually three or four centimetres. We were all just flabbergasted that his tumour could be that big."

Miller underwent two operations, in August and September, where surgeons removed the tumour.

"When I was sitting in the room before the surgery talking about symptoms and what could happen, that was pretty scary."

Ms Macarthy said it was almost unbelievable, because only a few weeks before the operation Miller had been skiing.

Less than a year later he is back on the slopes and getting back into the skating rink. "He's been to inline a few times, but his body still gets pretty tired."

Because of the operation, Miller now has no bone protecting the back of his brain, just muscle.

"I just take it careful really. I suppose I need to start wearing a helmet more."

Ms Macarthy said Miller came off lightly in terms of side effects.

He did have to learn to walk again, with the help of a physio and a walking frame.

He still has numbness on one side of his face, can't chew on that side and has double vision in his right eye, she said.

Miller said the double vision wasn't that big a deal though.

"I know which picture is the right one.

"I'm used to it now, I don't even notice it."

The whole ordeal has not dampened his spirits.

Miller said it had probably made him come out and "just live more".

"Before, I always thought that I lived life to the full every day, but you never really do. When something like that happens, you actually realise ‘I was just living'.

"It was scary. I suppose it's probably the worst thing that's happened, but it's almost kind of the best, because it's motivated me for heaps of things. It's life changing."

The Nelson Mail