Fighting the odds with accuracy

Courtesy photo (Henry Ford Health System)

As a quality control manager for U.S. Steel, Tom Kremm is diligent and methodical, following routines and specifications to the letter.

But at Henry Ford, his treatment for a deep brain tumor was more than routine.

And he may have met his match when his team of precision-oriented cancer experts did what would have been impossible just years ago. They killed the cancer.

At first, the sudden numbness on his face and right side didn’t bother him. But soon he created a bar chart to graph the episodes that occurred one to 13 times a day.

His general practitioner at Henry Ford ordered an MRI and found a tumor. Another MRI suggested potential glioma. That meant, several layers of the brain sat on top of the tumor, and the tumor had poorly defined boundaries. It was considered incurable.

“It was a complete shock to me,” he said. The last thing I expected at age 62 was to be diagnosed with a brain tumor.”

In October 2020, senior staff neurosurgeon Adam M. Robin, M.D. at Henry Ford performed minimally invasive laser ablation to kill the tumor cells. In real time, MRI imaging guided the laser ablation system.

Three laser fibers were placed through three tiny openings in Tom’s head. The positions were confirmed, and then light energy was delivered to the targeted cancer cells. The temperatures were monitored and increased to destroy cancer tissue.

Minimally Invasive Laser Ablation

The tumor deep in Tom’s brain was destroyed using heat from a laser. Laser therapy can reach previously inoperable tumors.

“It was amazing!” he said. “I had minimal side effects. I didn’t even take pain medication after the surgery. The biggest side effect was from the steroids to prevent swelling in the brain. To be able to drill into your brain and miss all those critical areas for motor coordination, vision or speech and still get the job done – is amazing!”

The second stage of Tom’s treatment occurred in February 2021 and required two more laser fibers to remove the remaining tumor tissue. He stayed in the hospital overnight. Then he recovered for three weeks at home and returned to work.

“Overall, there was a small surgical footprint,” Dr. Robin said. “The tiny incisions required only a little skin glue. In the past, this type of surgery would have been done with an open craniotomy while the patient was awake. Open surgery in this location can be associated with higher stroke rates,” says Dr. Robin.

“I am nothing but amazed by Dr. Robin and Dr. James Snyder, my neuro-oncologist, and the staff,” Tom said. “Everyone was excellent, very efficient. They had their act together in the time of COVID. From the very beginning, Dr. Robin was very confident. I have no doubt that he’s probably one of the best in the business.”

Henry Ford was one of the early adapters of laser ablation, also known as laser interstitial thermal therapy (LITT).

Although other health systems use the technology, Henry Ford handles cases where special experience is required to use laser ablation technology for additional treatment of certain deep brain tumors, says Dr. Robin.

During the three-month break between the surgeries, Tom’s mother passed away and, as always, coping meant taking life one day at a time. Now, Tom, his wife and his two sisters care for his dad every day.

Tom and his father take pride in his late-mothers 1983 AMC Eagle – often competing (and winning awards!) at car shows. They continue this tradition together, not letting a brain tumor stand in the way.

Tom has advice for preserving good health.

“If something isn’t normal, the earlier you jump on it, the outcome is usually better,” he said.

His future is tempered.

“This is a non-curable condition,” he said. “They can do what they can do. But the odds are this will come back. My hope is that it’s treatable and it doesn’t come back. I’m very positive about what has happened so far. I can’t ask for anything better. I can’t say enough good things about Henry Ford Health System.”