The Complete Arnold Allen Story
Starting in 1991
By Nancy Allen
In May of 1991 during a tennis outing my 53-year-old husband Arnold hit his head hard twice on the edge of Hugh Warren's poorly designed car door. He was a good friend and East Central University Tennis Coach. A few weeks later Arnold began having headaches so severe he could hardly function. Since he thought he had a severe sinus infection he went to his ear, nose, and throat doctor, Dr. Charles Vest, in Ada, Oklahoma who immediately determined he had a neurological problem of some kind. His symptoms were so alarming he offered to make the appointment and drive him to the neurosurgeon himself. When have you ever heard of a doctor offering to do that? Dr. Vest did call the neurosurgeon's office and make the appointment. Arnold thanked him and I rushed him to a local neurosurgeon, Dr. Charles Borne, Jr. who ordered a brain scan. The test showed a subdural hematoma causing pressure on his brain. He was admitted to the hospital immediately. He was in the hospital for about a week.
While he was in the hospital for his head injury, Dr. Borne came by his room one day and, out of the blue said, “By the way, you have a brain tumor.” Arnold fell back on the bed, shocked and horrified. A friend had recently died of a brain tumor so this was frightening news. We still considered ourselves newlyweds, so all this was especially bad news.
The doctor in 1991 told us he thought the tumor was benign but was not sure and said we should watch it for a while. Another scan in November showed either the tumor had grown a little or it looked different because of the use of a dye that time. Dr. Borne said he could not remove the tumor and referred us on to another doctor.
In December of 1991 we went to a neurosurgeon (not Dr. Paul Francel) in Oklahoma City. He said we could leave Arnold’s tumor in and watch it or he could remove it. He said it was in a difficult area, the center of the brain. In January of 1992, after much thought and discussion, we had the tumor operated on but only a small part of it could be removed. It was slow growing, luckily. We were really shocked and disappointed that the tumor could not be completely removed, as that had never crossed our minds. The doctor never mentioned that possibility. That was inexcusable.
After Arnold's first surgery in 1992 he was left with many problems. He has permanent third, fourth, and sixth cranial nerve damage of the right eye that caused almost complete paralysis of the eye muscles, enlarged pupil, droopy eyelid, double vision, and his nose on the right side runs nearly all the time. He also has decreased V1 and V2 sensation. He has almost constant pain in his neck. He also has spatial problems--being able to tell exactly where things are located in space and slight problems with facial recognition. He has almost no sense of smell. He has a lot of trouble sleeping at night. He can go to sleep easily but can't stay asleep very long.
He had some problems right after the surgery remembering where we were going when we got in the car, but he overcame that as time went by. He had to relearn how to play tennis and drive the car with his visual handicaps. He still has trouble telling where he has mowed the grass as he can't tell how high the grass is. When he reaches for something he nearly always reaches for the wrong spot. He has difficulty visualizing and planning projects in his head. He used to be an expert at that.
As time went by, the tumor began to give Arnold occasional incapacitating headaches of several day's duration. It was slowly and relentlessly growing. In March of 1999 he had a headache so severe that he could hardly move for several days and it continued in a less severe form for several weeks. We returned to the Oklahoma City neurosurgeon who told us it couldn’t be removed by him or anyone else. A well respected radiologist in Oklahoma City also told us it was inoperable. We realized Arnold didn’t have much time left if something drastic wasn’t done quickly. It was easy to visualize a slow, painful death as the tumor continued to expand in the closed confines of the rigid skull.
As this grim reality set in, it became apparent we couldn’t defeat the enemy alone. We realized we were completely dependent on God’s mercy. We had to step out in faith and totally trust God for everything. We stormed heaven asking God to heal Arnold of the deadly brain tumor and to give us guidance. Many friends and family members prayed for healing and inspiration.
Dr. Paul C. Francel - Our Hero!
Then a sudden, forceful thought came into my head (God’s inspiration, no doubt). I should contact another neurosurgeon, Dr. Paul C. Francel of Oklahoma City, who had surgically cured a friend of mine, Billy McGowen, of 45 years of uncontrolled epilepsy. I met Dr. Francel at the time of her surgery in April of 1999. I was very impressed with him. He was extremely well trained and had a great reputation. At that time, Dr. Francel was an Associate Professor at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center Medical School. He was also in charge of the gamma knife, a form of radiation treatment, at the OU Medical Center.
I e-mailed Dr. Francel (see original e-mails) and asked him if the gamma knife could be used to destroy Arnold’s tumor. We discovered he had studied with Dr. Ladislau Steiner one of the pioneers of the gamma knife, and he directed the skull base surgery team. In addition, he had trained with the “father of cavernous sinus surgery” Dr. Vinko Dolenc and Dr. John A. Jane--both world famous neurosurgeons who were working at that time at the University of Virginia. Dr. Francel replied back the very next day and told us to come up right away to see him and bring Arnold’s MRI scans. Due to the urgency of the problem, Dr. Francel stayed late after his other appointments to see us.
Dr. Dolenc (left), Dr. Jane (center), Dr. Steiner (right)
Arnold’s skull-based tumor was located deep in the brain in the cavernous sinus, one of the most difficult regions in the brain to reach surgically.
The cavernous sinus is a major venous drainage system that sits on the base of the skull where the carotid arteries enter the skull and brain. It is a very important structure that helps drain blood from the brain. It is comprised of venous channels, the nerves to the eye muscles (not the optic nerve), the nerve that gives sensation to the face and eye, and the carotid artery.
His tumor started near the right temporal lobe and went clear through the brain to near the brain stem*. Unfortunately, the tumor was far too large to be destroyed with the gamma knife. However, Dr. Francel told us he could remove the tumor surgically. During our discussions, he was careful to discuss all the risks of the surgery with us.
*A more detailed description of the location of the tumor is as follows: It involved the middle cranial fossa region near the temporal lobe and then extended along through the anterior cranial fossa and involved the cavernous sinus fully on the right side, extrinsic into the parasellar area, and then posteriorly into the posterior fossa around the brainstem.
In January of 1992 the pathology report on the tumor called it a chondromyxoma, a benign tumor. It took a month to get the report back so I figured it was sent off for another opinion. After the surgery in 1999, it was eventually sent to Mayo Clinic as it was difficult to determine. After a month, that report said it was a chondroid chordoma. This type of tumor is rare. However, it did show an area of some aggressive growth so it was called a malignant, low grade tumor. Dr. Francel had recently done a study on this type of tumor and did not recommend any radiation or chemtherapy. We were very glad about that. I talked to a doctor one time (not Dr. Francel) about the difference in the tumor names and he said that those are similar terms and sometimes used interchangeably.
Also, Dr. Francel explained to us that he believed he was the only surgeon in Oklahoma, at that time, who had the advanced training and experience to perform this surgery safely and successfully. In fact, according to Dr. Francel's research, he believed he was one of only about ten doctors in the world thoroughly trained and qualified for it at that time since he had been trained by Dr. Vinko Dolenc and done a number of those surgeries in his own practice. It was one of his specialties. Dr. Francel revealed that Arnold's tumor was one of the hardest of all brain tumors to remove because of its difficult location. Only a few years ago a tumor in that location was considered completely inaccessible.
In fact, Dr. Francel told us when Arnold had his first surgery in Jan. of 1992 only one doctor in the world could have completely removed his tumor successfully--Dr. Dolenc. We marveled at that revelation and the thought we had found Dr. Francel just in time, with God's help.
Regarding Dr. Dolenc, in 1989 he wrote the book “Anatomy and Surgery of the Cavernous Sinus,” which sold out in less than one year. According to the Slovenia Times in 2009, this book was the leading neurosurgical book of the year in 1989 and the discoveries of Dr. Dolenc were estimated as a landmark in the history of neurosurgery. That was the book Dr. Francel showed us in his office when explaining his proposed surgery for Arnold.
As we sat at Dr. Francel's desk while visiting with him, we smiled knowingly at each other when we saw the Bible on the corner of his desk. It confirmed what we were beginning to discover. He was a very dynamic, inspirational Christian. Our spirits soared and hope returned to our troubled minds. The fear that imprisoned our thoughts fell away. When we left, the office was dark, quiet, and deserted. Rather than feeling discouraged at the thought of another brain surgery, we were excited and energized by talking to Dr. Francel. We went out to celebrate Arnold’s new lease on life.
After a grueling four and one-half hour, four-vessel angiogram of the brain (he was awake the whole time) and a high resolution MRI, on August 17, 1999 Dr. Francel began the risky surgery assisted by neurosurgery resident Dr. Johnnie Honeycutt. They had reserved the whole day in the O.R. for the surgery.
Many people were praying for Arnold, including Dr. Francel. I specifically asked him to pray for Arnold and his surgery before the big day. I thought, of all the people praying, I want his surgeon to pray. It is literally in his hands and God's. I have to smile at that thought now, because I know that request was unnecessary. He would have prayed anyway.
Things got off to a worrisome start before Arnold got to the OR while he was being prepared for the surgery. I knew that he had to have an MRI within 24 hours of his surgery to have the up to date data needed to work with the computer during the surgery. As the time got closer for surgery I informed the medical workers prepping Arnold of the need for the MRI. The first time I mentioned it I guess they ignored me. I told them a time or two again and finally one person said maybe they should call Dr. Francel at home as he wasn't there yet. That set things into high speed and before long he had the required MRI which took about 45 minutes.
Next, the technician hooking him up to the machines said, "We have to get another machine! This one isn't working right! The pulse is way too low. Then Arnold told him, "don't worry, I am a runner and my pulse is always really low." His blood pressure was also pretty low. The technician calmed down and got him hooked up correctly.
The next problem that cropped up was also in the OR. A medical person was trying to put in a central line for the surgery and accidentally stuck the needle into his lung by mistake and it started to deflate some as confirmed by a rush x-ray. Dr. Francel very thoughtfully called me himself and explained the situation. He said he felt that he should place a chest tube to re-inflate his lung as the surgery could go on for all day and he needed his lungs in the best shape possible. I agreed and that was done. Finally, the surgery started a few hours late. Dr. Francel reported that once the actual surgery got started everything went perfectly. That was great news.
Dr. Francel used a powerful computer during the surgery to show him where he was at all times, 3-dimensionally, in the tumor and in the brain (the Picker Navigation System, a 3-D image-guidance system). He could rotate the image to any angle. When he touched an area of the brain with the navigational wand, the computer showed him where he was exactly. Prior to the surgery, he had practiced Arnold’s surgery several times performing “virtual surgeries” on the same computer. He also used a surgical microscope during the complex surgery.
Click here for more information on a 3-D image-guidance system.
So many things could have prevented the tumor’s complete removal or caused fatal bleeding. He could have been paralyzed, severely impaired, or could have died as a result of the dangerous surgery. But with God’s inspiration and guidance the tumor was safely and completely removed. After the surgery I smiled and told a beaming Dr. Francel that he and God worked beautifully together. He looked in my eyes very intently and said softly, “I AM HIS HANDS.” His reply sent chills down my spine. I marveled at the beauty and truth of those words.
After Arnold's surgery the anesthesiologist came by to visit us in the ICU and she told us how quickly and easily the tumor had been removed. The surgery had been planned for all day and was completed in half that time. Her statement made the hairs on my head stand up because I had been COMPELLED all the week before to pray for that very thing--the tumor would loosen up safely from its moorings and come out easily. That was no small feat since the MRI revealed the tumor was dangerously wrapped around the main artery of the brain, the carotid. One slip of an instrument could have been fatal.
Also, Dr. Francel feared the presence of scar tissue from the previous surgery might make complete removal of the tumor impossible. The consistency of the tumor was of concern too. If it had become hard, rather than soft as before, it could be very difficult to remove. If Arnold had gotten radiation treatment for the tumor, he would not have been able to have the surgery. Over and over our prayers were answered.
After the surgery, Dr. Francel’s words “I GOT ALL THE TUMOR OUT” kept reverberating in my head. I felt such awe and extreme joy that the impossible had become the possible. I knew God had engineered this miracle.
On September 3, 1999 Dr. Johnnie Honeycutt presented Arnold's remarkable case to Grand Rounds at the OU Health Sciences Center.
Arnold made an exceptionally fast recovery and has had no deficits as a result of Dr. Francel's surgery. Incredibly, only 12 days after this complex surgery, he was out mowing the lawn, running, and playing tennis. A ball cap covered the 14-inch horseshoe-shaped, stapled incision. In five weeks he returned to work.
Everyone (including Dr. Francel) shakes their head in disbelief at Arnold's speedy recovery. I often think of him like the man in the Bible that was told by the Lord to take up his bed and walk. Arnold walked and then he ran about 30 miles a week for about 14 years. I believe his high level of physical fitness was a big factor, but not the whole story. He had a great surgeon and a tremendous amount of prayer backing him up. He had 100% faith in Dr. Francel and the Lord to bring him through the ordeal successfully and safely. He said he wasn't nervous or afraid the morning of surgery. I was a bit surprised. I guess he passed that on to me. I was trusting too, but a bit apprehensive.
I should add, I just found out in September of 2013 some further information on Arnold's early health history that I was not aware of, which directly relates to the tumor. Arnold told me he had experienced frequent headaches in the right side of his forehead since about the 6th grade which would have been the school year of (1951-52). Everyone thought it was a sinus headache. He had them about once a week for all those years until right after his brain surgery by Dr. Francel, August 17, 1999. He has never had a headache since. So, apparently this tumor must have been inside his brain for much longer than I or even Dr. Francel (his second brain surgeon) knew about until the present day.
I discussed this with Dr. Francel and he said it is very possible he had the tumor all that time. It surprises me that this was never investigated sooner as he was previously married to a doctor. However, all the pieces of this complex story had to fall into place in the order and time frame they occurred, for Arnold's life to be saved. So, discovering the tumor much sooner really wouldn't have helped. In fact, earlier intervention could likely have proved fatal. So events took place as they should have to achieve this stunning success.
Arnold has had no recurrence of the tumor. Now, 18 years later, we still thank God for his miracle deliverance from the deadly brain tumor. Arnold continues to play tennis and is very physically active. Although he is retired, he is definitely not resting. Since his surgery he rebuilt our large wood fence (no pre-fabricated materials), complete with decorative top pieces he made, two nice gates, and gravel at the base. He built a new enclosure for our back porch.
He completed a new bathroom in our basement he started before his surgery. It has been very challenging for him with his visual and spatial limitations but we have gotten many compliments on his fence, back porch, and bathroom. He said that he never realized how impaired he was from his first surgery (not by Dr. Francel) until he started building the bathroom. But he doesn't let that slow him down. See pictures of his projects below to see how well he is functioning neurologically.
New Fence (nothing pre-fabricated) and Back Porch Enclosure
New Bathroom in the Basement
Arnold has refurbished his late father in law's tennis barn--a metal barn that has a court inside. It had fallen in disrepair when Orval Price (my dad) became sick with Alzheimer's. It is great to use in inclement weather.
L to R - Jim, Rick, and Arnold at the Tennis Barn redone
Tennis Barn down the hill
Since dad's death on January 25, 2008 Arnold has taken over the management of his 99 acre farm near Ada. Although it can be extremely demanding work (he is the only worker out there), Arnold has found it a place of enjoyment and peace.
Arnold on mower with small trailer he built
Arnold on Orval's old Massey Ferguson Tractor
Arnold with the John Deere Tractor
Click here to see pictures and read about how the tennis barn fell down in a snowstorm and was rebuilt and how it played a large part in
Arnold and Nancy getting married
Arnold's story has even been shown on national television on Lifetime Television Network on their Beyond Chance show. August 13 and 19, 2000 were the dates of the original showing and it was shown many times in reruns. In 2009 I discovered it was being shown in several different countries. Arnold and I, Dr. Francel, and my friend Billy who had epilepsy surgery by Dr. Francel were all in the program. It was quite an adventure. The program was filmed in the Oklahoma City area and produced by Triage Entertainment of California.
Courtesy of Lifetime Television Network
A surprising dilemma developed after Arnold's surgery that I was not expecting. I discovered when someone saves your life or the life of your loved one, you realize that you can NEVER adequately thank the person for what he or she did. You know that all the money and all the "THANK YOUS" in the world could ever be enough to pay this person back. So, I share our story with all who will read it around the world. That is my thank you to Dr. Francel and to God. I hope many will be blessed by hearing it and feel joyful that God still answers prayer and performs miracles in our present age!
News Flash - Arnold is still tumor free.
Thank you Dr. Francel for 18 great years August 17, 2017!!!
Dr. Francel retired from medical practice and studied for the ministry. He graduated from St. Paul School of Theology August 24, 2012 and is doing the Lord's work.
He is Assistant Minister to Pastor Mark Borseth at Resurrection Lutheran Church in Yukon, OK.
Great job Dr. Francel!! We are all very proud of you! We know you are an outstanding minister, Christian, writer, and civic leader.
Biography of Paul C. Francel, M.D., Ph.D.
Website originally developed by Nancy Allen