Kelly Stafford is opening up about her recovery from a 12-hour surgery five months after she was first diagnosed with a brain tumor, saying she now feels “amazing” and closer to her old self.
Stafford, the wife of Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, shared for NBC Detroit affiliate WDIV how she found out and what her road back has been like since surgery and an early setback. The TODAY show aired the piece Wednesday morning.
Stafford describes learning of brain tumor
Stafford, 30, began to feel lightheaded and dizzy during regular activities and in January experienced the room spinning so much she said she “kind of just like almost threw” her newborn at her husband as she felt herself falling.
Matthew told NBC he encouraged her to see if it was vertigo. When the symptoms continued after an ER doctor prescribed medicine, she got an MRI. That doctor sent the couple to a neurosurgeon at UCLA, Stafford said, to get the results.
"I don't know if this doctor didn't know that I didn't know, she pulls up my MRI and goes, 'Well, here is your brain tumor,’ ” she said. "We had no idea."
Stafford announced on her Instagram page in April she was diagnosed with acoustic neuroma. The non-cancerous and slow-growing brain tumor influences balance and hearing and can cause hearing loss, ringing in the ears and unsteadiness, per the Mayo Clinic.
Surgery doubled due to ‘abnormal vein’
The Staffords praised Dr. Byron Gregory Thompson, Jr., who performed the surgery at home at the University of Michigan Hospital. Stafford said he told them he would do his best to preserve her hearing — which he did save — but he wanted to focus on the facial nerve.
The surgery was slated for six hours, but complications stretched it to 12. Matthew Stafford told NBC he was in the waiting room getting updates via an “old-school beeper” they gave him, but they were short and to the point, such as “Ran into a hurdle, expect the surgery to go two hours longer than expected.”
The complication was due to an abnormal vein, Stafford said, that their doctor had seen before and written a paper on. “That’s truly God’s work,” she wrote on Instagram.
Stafford ‘learning how to move again’
Stafford lost all balance on her right side after the surgery. She described the feeling in an April Instagram post as similar to being “college drunk. I’m talking end of the night, can’t put one foot in front of the other, knowing you’ll be sleeping on the bathroom floor, college drunk.”
In the interview with NBC, she said she’s gone from her first steps on the day after surgery to boxing classes to improve balance and mind function.
"I'm relearning how to move again,'' she said. "I push myself. I try. It's really because I have a great support when I come home."
Stafford family support system
In the first days of recovery, Stafford experienced vertigo symptoms as she re-learned how to do things.
“That first night I was like, oh god, we went from somewhat functioning with some dizziness to rock bottom. She was in a bad place," Matthew said.
Stafford returned to the hospital with a minor setback when she struggled to taper off the steroids. She told NBC her husband had to do everything for her after surgery; he said the first 10 days were “all hands on deck” to get her to bed and back.
"It was tough,” Matthew told NBC. “I'm admittedly not great at being the most empathetic person. I don't know why. I'm just that way. What do you do when somebody tells you your wife has a brain tumor? You can't read a book on that. So I just tried to be there for her as much as I could."
She told NBC parents, siblings and a nanny were with them to help out. Their three girls stayed with others in the initial recovery days and she credits the children with helping her push forward.
Matthew praises wife as role model
Matthew called his wife an “incredible role model to our girls.” Their twin daughters, Sawyer and Chandler, turned 2 shortly before the surgery and Hunter turned 1 last month.
In an interview with The Ringer published Tuesday, Matthew turned the conversation from his toughness to his wife’s and said he drew inspiration from her. He said he would go into the Lions facility early in the morning, around 5 a.m., and leave to care for his wife by the time she woke up around 8 a.m.
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