Cindy Shirey lived her whole life not knowing that she had a colloid cyst – a mucous filled growth near the center of the brain. The cyst caused occasional mild headaches but showed no other sign there was a problem. Cindy and her son, Jake

In 2021, at the age of 57, Cindy started having weakness in her legs, more frequent headaches, and an incident where she lost consciousness. Finally, Cindy’s symptoms became more aggressive, causing her to fall to the floor and hit her head. She then urgently looked for a place to treat her condition before her symptoms worsened.

As an associate vice president in a leading healthcare organization, Cindy helps organize long-term healthcare for patients. For her own care, Cindy used the same resources her organization uses to find a hospital that would improve her health.

At first, Cindy’s doctors sent her to physical therapy hoping to treat the leg weakness and limping, but she saw no improvement in her condition. Concerned by her worsening symptoms, her physician sent her to MemorialCare Saddleback Medical Center for an MRI. Emergency medicine physician  Larry B. Burbridge, D.O., studied Cindy’s medical record. Dr. Burbridge was taken aback once he learned she had lost consciousness and advised she receive an MRI of her brain to complete a thorough workup.

Her MRI revealed the large colloid cyst that had been growing silently in her brain and was now blocking the normal flow of brain fluid. The care team connected Cindy to Vikas Y Rao, M.D., a neurosurgeon at Saddleback Medical Center. After discussing options with her, Dr. Rao performed a minimally invasive brain surgery to remove the growth in her brain just two days after her MRI.

The surgery was a success, and the team at Saddleback Medical Center helped her on the road to recovery. Cindy’s support group was key during her recovery. Her family and care team served as pillars of strength and helped her work through her feelings throughout the process, both physical and mental.

Neurological conditions affect thousands of people each year. The MemorialCare Neuroscience Institute at Saddleback Medical Center provides highly advanced care for conditions of the nervous system, including strokes, spine conditions, brain disorders, tumors, balance, and related conditions. The Neuroscience team provides personalized, compassionate care plans for patients and families—whether in the hospital, doctor’s office, outpatient, or community setting—closely coordinating with referring physicians and community resources to deliver exceptional services.

“There was not one moment where I felt worried,” stated Cindy. “The nurses and physicians were all so kind and educated, so I knew I was in great hands. I left with much admiration to all the employees who helped me through my time at the hospital, and I am forever grateful to my surgeon, Dr. Rao.”

After Cindy’s successful surgery, she had to work on getting her balance back to normal. Every day, Cindy worked with the compassionate physical therapists at Saddleback Medical Center and credits her assigned therapist who motivated her daily to regain her balance and ability to finally walk normally. 

Her recovery went so well that she did not need to go to a rehab in-patient facility for further intensive therapy. She was able to return to work one month earlier than expected and has made a full recovery.

“Cindy’s condition was a relatively rare one that was potentially life threatening if not diagnosed,” says Dr. Rao.  “Coming in with leg complaints, she might have been overlooked as having a spine problem, but the Emergency Department at Saddleback very astutely knew this was something more and saved her life by getting an MRI of her brain to determine the proper treatment. Throughout her entire ordeal Cindy was one of the most positive patients I have ever met and this contributed to her amazing recovery.”

Now over a year later, Cindy continues to work hard in her career and live a strong and healthy life thanks to the great care at Saddleback Medical Center.