Office of Institutional Advancement

Neuro Patient Says He's "Lucky to Be Alive"—Thanks to Jefferson

Steve Thode

In the span of three weeks, Steve Thode turned 60, found out he was going to be a grandfather, and had brain surgery.

“It was one crazy ride,” says Thode of his “surreal” journey through a series of unfortunate—and fortunate—events.

On April 16, 2016, Thode was stopped at a red light on a road in Medford, New Jersey, when a distracted driver rear-ended his car at about 50 miles per hour. While he walked away without a scratch (thanks to the seatbelt), he began having headaches later that afternoon. The local emergency department doctor ordered a CT scan that revealed a colloid cyst—a small fluid-filled sac on the brain—that was not due to the accident, and had been there his whole life. After following up with a neurologist, Thode was told the cyst was not dangerous at the time, but that he would need to have it monitored to make sure it did not grow.

In December 2016, Thode had an MRI and an MRA (magnetic resonance angiography, which evaluates blood vessels to identify abnormalities). “As soon as the doctor walked into the room, I just felt the air was wrong,” says Thode.

The doctor gave him the good news and the bad news: The cyst had not grown, but the MRA found something else—a large aneurysm in his brain. It was six millimeters in diameter, just one millimeter shy of the threshold for immediate action. Thode was told there was a 20 percent chance the aneurysm would rupture in his lifetime; if it did, there was a 40 percent chance it would be fatal, and a 65 percent chance he would suffer a serious stroke.

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He was referred to a local neurosurgeon who had been a resident at Jefferson and a fellow with neurosurgeon Robert Rosenwasser, MD, president of the Vickie and Jack Farber Institute for Neuroscience at Jefferson. When the doctor said surgery would be necessary, Thode asked about a second opinion, and the doctor suggested he consult with Dr. Rosenwasser.

At his first appointment at the Farber Institute, Thode says he knew he had made the right choice.

“What struck me about Dr. Rosenwasser was his amazing bedside manner,” Thode says. “The first thing out of his mouth in the exam room was, ‘This is a garden-variety aneurysm in a garden-variety location.’ His calm calmed me. He went through what the procedure would entail, and he was so confident and reassuring that I didn’t freak out.”

Thode decided to have the surgery at Jefferson because, “I wanted to have it at a major metropolitan hospital dedicated solely to neurosurgery.”

On February 9, 2017, Thode underwent a craniotomy. The nurses in the surgery unit updated Thode’s wife, Sara, every hour, and when it was over, Dr. Rosenwasser came out to tell her the good news in person—everything went just as planned.

What Thode described as “extraordinary care” continued after the surgery in the ICU with his “fantastic” overnight nurse, Marissa Matthews, BSN, RN. “She came in and gave me pain meds, she fed me applesauce, she talked to me in a comforting way … Here I was in a haze, bleeding, throwing up … just a mess, and she took care of me and showed such compassion.”

When he was moved to the step down unit, he found the staff there tremendously kind and attentive, always willing to go the extra mile for him. Two days later he went home sporting a 9 ½-inch incision and 28 staples on the right side of his head.

While the road to recovery was fraught with challenges, Thode was able to return to his job as a producer at a national news outlet after 12 weeks.

“I know I’m lucky to be alive,” says Thode. If not for that series of unfortunate events—the car accident, which led to the discovery of the cyst, which led to the detection of the aneurysm—followed by those fortunate events—being treated by a local doctor who knew Dr. Rosenwasser and Jefferson—“things might have turned out differently.”

Thode is now completely recovered, and in October of 2017 he and his wife welcomed their first granddaughter, Turner.

“It was a circle of life moment,” Thode says of Turner’s birth. “New day, new baby, new life!”