Medical Moment: The surgery that saved a 23-year-old cancer survivor

Published: Sep. 26, 2022 at 6:27 PM EDT
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(WNDU) - If being told you have cancer wasn’t bad enough, what if the drugs being used to save you almost kill you?

That’s what happened to one young lady in the prime of her life. But she believes being in the right place at the right time saved her life.

Ali Bello was 23-years-old and living her dream, a new job, great friends, and just having a good time.

“I got home one night and realized I had this pounding headache,” Bello recalled.

Bello was diagnosed with leukemia. After a week of chemo, Ali developed a severe headache with vomiting. A cat scan showed bleeding in her brain.

“I had just had my chemo treatment and I had thrown up in one of the bed pans and was feeling super ill,” Bello said.

“This was because of her cancer and the chemotherapy drugs given to try and cure her cancer,” said Babak Jahromi, a neurosurgeon at Northwestern Medicine.

Emergency medications didn’t reduce the pressure.

“Because the bleeding was so large, things spiraled out very, very quickly,” Dr. Jahromi explained. “She was sliding deeper into a coma to a point where she was near death.”

Ali almost died twice that night. Dr. Jahromi said he performed a skull flap surgery faster than he had ever done before, removing a large portion of Ali’s skull, making room for her brain to swell and hopefully recover without any more damage.

Ali had to relearn how to use the left side of her body and after a number of weeks, she was able to get back on chemo. Now, two years out, Ali is cancer free.

“I think it would just be great to get back my life and be able to do things on my own and get back to my running, and my boxing, and all those things that I love,” Bello said.

“For someone who was at death’s doorstep to now being able to swim laps in a pool, despite her disability is just a miracle,” Dr. Jahromi said.

Due to her brain bleed, Ali is still recovering. She’s in occupational therapy, physical therapy, and works with a personal trainer three times a week.