DETROIT – Adele Demchik's life changed four years ago while she was on a birthday trip with her husband in Rome.
"We had breakfast, we walked through the Borghese Gardens and got to piazza where I said I wasn't feeling good," Demchik said. "My husband came over said, ‘Are you OK?' I couldn't answer him. My eyes were going back and forth, back and forth, and I could not talk."
Demchik was having a seizure.
She was admitted to a hospital in Rome and underwent several tests.
"They didn't really say anything. They said I had a spot on my brain," she said.
But after more testing, including an MRI, she got an answer.
"The doctor came in and said, ‘Hello, you have a brain tumor,'" Demchik said. "That was a heartbreak. That was devastating. A brain tumor? I never even had an usual headache or anything and all of a sudden I have a brain tumor."
The neurosurgeon in Rome told the couple he could operate, but they wanted to get home as soon as they could.
Dr. Tom Mikkelsen from the department of neurosurgery at Henry Ford Hospital treated Demchik when she returned to Michigan. He said Demchik's travel had likely uncovered the tumor.
"Any medical stress, whether it's a high fever or the exhaustion of travel, sleep loss, can provoke that response of an injured brain and a seizure is usually the first sign of a tumor," Mikkelsen said.
During her brain surgery, Demchik's tumor was diagnosed as an intermediate anaplastic oligodendroglioma -- one of the malignant tumors that have been the focus of years of research.
"For 22 years, we've been collecting all the specimens, with patients' permission of course, from surgeries done here at Henry Ford Hospital," Mikkelsen said.
As soon as the tumor is removed during surgery, it's frozen to the temperature of liquid nitrogen, which is -196 centigrade or -321 Fahrenheit. Because the cells are alive when they are preserved, they can be studied for decades to come using techniques that may not even exist yet. Using the latest 21st-century breakthroughs on the thousands of samples have already yielded important results, which have been published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Demchik has donated a piece of her brain to the cause.
"If the research helps a lot of people, that would be fantastic," she said.
And even though it has been four years since her surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, Demchik will need to stay aware of her health.
"Just take one day at a time, and every day you wake up, be joyful. It is a blessing," she said.