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Neurosurgical treatments give patients chance at pain-free lives

| Saturday, Feb. 7, 2015, 11:10 p.m.

Melissa Linz was just a middle schooler when her body began seizing up.

She initially thought it was just pre-teen hormones.

Each worsening seizure was an ethereal out-of-body experience.

“Everything slows down. You feel like you're in a dream. You reach for something and can't get there,” said Linz, 30, of Ross. Clinicians in Allegheny General Hospital discovered a brain tumor by her freshman year of college.

Eleven years and two operations later, she can drive a car again and has landed a new job, a success story for Pittsburgh specialists.

For patients unnerved by brain tumors, back pain and other debilitating ailments, the treatments can seem almost magical, a chance at pain-free lives.

“She's walking. She's talking. Every day I speak to her, she seems more like herself,” said Sophia Giordano, 40, of Bethlehem of her mother, Maria Bakloris, 62, of Corinth, Greece, who underwent surgery for a brain tumor in January in UPMC Presbyterian.

Bakloris' growth was discovered only because she had a seizure in her sleep and was unresponsive for about 40 minutes. Doctors in her home country were not hopeful.

Her family found UPMC online. Its neurosurgery chairman, Dr. Robert Friedlander, led an operation to remove Bakloris' roughly 5-centimeter tumor, which appeared to be cancer-free.

Giordano estimated the surgery cost more than $100,000. The family paid out of pocket.

“With your health, it doesn't matter what the cost is — as long as she's OK,” said Giordano, who praised Friedlander for his optimism and Presbyterian's staff for its close teamwork.

“You won't find that many places.”

Adam Smeltz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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