Inspirational Stories of
Arnold and Nancy Allen and some of their friends
Medical Information on Some Brain Conditions
Guardian Angel on Duty series of stories
Nancy and Arnold Allen
Wedding Day - April 21, 1990
Thanks to Dr. Paul Francel. He's our Hero!
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The following story
In 2009 it was still being shown in other countries.
Although the story was filmed several years ago, it is timeless and relevant for today.
All the characters played themselves in the filming:
Dr. Paul C. Francel, Arnold and Nancy Allen, and Billy McGowen.
by Nancy Allen
Click here to see
more wedding pictures of Nancy and Arnold Allen
On August 17, 1999, my brother-in-law, sister-in-law, and I sat in the ICU waiting room of the Presbyterian Tower at the OU Medical Center in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma watching the minutes slowly tick by on our watches. My husband Arnold was having a risky brain surgery to remove a large cavernous sinus tumor that was threatening his life. The tumor extended from the right temporal lobe area clear through the brain to near the brain stem. Arnold was a healthy 61-year-old who worked full time and enjoyed running, biking, and playing tennis. A large number of our friends and co-workers were praying for Arnold during his surgery.
This tumor was partially removed in 1992 by another surgeon. Even though it was a low grade, slow growing tumor, it had gradually grown back to its present alarming size. It was an extremely rare chondroid chordoma. After Arnold experienced a completely disabling headache in March 1999 of several day's duration we visited with two doctors, a neurosurgeon and a well respected radiologist, and were told it was inoperable. We knew it was only a matter of time before the tumor would end Arnold's life and we could only imagine it wouldn't be a pleasant way to die. It stood to reason a tumor expanding in a small closed space would kill him before long.
As we contemplated that distressing turn of events in March, I forced myself to concentrate on my good friend, Billy McGowen, a petite 46-year old, who was scheduled for removal of part of the right temporal lobe and hippocampus of her brain to try to cure her epilepsy which was present since the age of 10 months. The damaged hippocampus was situated snug against the brain stem, and had to be peeled off that structure, so the surgery was risky. Since she had no family available for moral support, I made plans to take her up to Presbyterian Tower (OU Medical Center) in Oklahoma City for her surgery on April 21, 1999.
Some friends and co-workers were wondering why I was taking off work several days to be with Billy, when she could have gotten rides for the two hour trip courtesy of a government agency. I completely discounted that thought, as I knew I had to be there for the event, in order to provide encouragement and help where needed. As a licensed practical nurse, I knew that she would probably need someone keeping an eye on her after surgery. Also, I had a power of attorney for Billy in case something went wrong in surgery and she was unable to make decisions for herself afterwards. My ninth wedding anniversary on April 21 would go uncelebrated that day and I knew it likely would be my last.
It was a surreal time the evening of April 20, 1999. As Billy and I sat in the hotel, we watched on TV the world fall apart at Columbine High School in Littleton, CO. It was an overwhelming, heartbreaking distraction from the concern about her surgery the next day. My husband sat at home with a terrible headache. It was a reminder that he didn't have much time left on earth unless something drastic happened quickly. I felt bad leaving him at home alone, but I knew I had to be at Billy's surgery. God knew I had to be there to meet the man who would change our lives forever.
On the morning of surgery Billy and I chatted as we waited for her to go into surgery. She was eager and excited at the thought of finally getting rid of the seizures that had plagued her life so long. At last she was whisked into surgery. I awaited the outcome in the ICU waiting room, feeling optimistic this procedure would turn her life around. After a few hours, her neurosurgeon, Dr. Paul C. Francel, came out to visit with me and told me everything went extremely well. Dr. Francel impressed me as being a highly intelligent, confident, multi-talented young surgeon. He was also thoughtful. He had a nurse call me on three occasions during the surgery to give me updates on Billy's progress. After only three days in the hospital Billy was able to go home, where she made an excellent recovery after several weeks.
During the time Billy was recovering in May of 1999, my husband and I struggled to try to figure out what we should do, if anything, about his frightening condition. We prayed to God for guidance and Arnold's healing. As his future looked more and more dismal, I thought back to the bright young surgeon, Dr. Francel, who had operated on my friend Billy. I will always believe God directed my thoughts back to him.
I read several web pages on the Internet about Dr. Francel and was amazed to learn of his extensive experience and education. At that time he was an Assistant Professor (later Associate Professor) at The University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and he worked out of three hospitals in that Oklahoma City complex (together called OU Medical Center): University , Presbyterian, and Children's. At 38, in addition to being an M.D., he was a Ph.D. He graduated Magna cum Laude in three years from Harvard University in Biology (1982) and earned his Ph.D. (1987) from the Department of Pharmacological/ Physiological Sciences at the University of Chicago and his Medical Degree (1989) from the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine.
He did his residency with John A. Jane, M.D., Ph.D., Professor and Chairman, Department of Neurosurgery, University of Virginia, a world renowned neurosurgeon. In addition, he trained with Ladislau Steiner, M.D., Ph.D. an expert in the Gamma Knife who helped refine the Gamma Knife to its present state.
Story continued below the box.
Paul C. Francel, M.D. , Ph.D., M.Div.
|Biography of Dr. Francel||
Dr. Francel Links
Dr. Paul Francel
a Brain Tumor -
Complete Arnold Allen Story
Beginning in 1991
|Chuck Riley Story -
Arachnoid Brain Cyst
|Rachael Merritt Story -
Dystonia treated with
Deep Brain Stimulation
|Jennifer Hendricks Story -
Chiari I Malformation
Ford Thomas' Story
The Guru - Brain Tumor
|Boy's Life Saved by Washing his Brain||
I thought to myself, I don't know who else to ask or where to turn, I will e-mail Dr. Francel (see original e-mail exchange) and see if he has any ideas as to what we should do to try to get help for Arnold. I explained to Dr. Francel that Arnold had a large cavernous sinus tumor that appeared inoperable. I asked him if Arnold might be a candidate for the Gamma Knife radiation treatment that he was in charge of, at that time, in the Presbyterian Tower, OU Medical Center. We were not really contemplating another surgery at that time.
He answered my e-mail immediately and, amazingly enough, said that he directed the university skull base team as the neurosurgeon and had extensive training and experience with removal of cavernous sinus tumors, having trained with Dr. Vinko Dolenc of Slovenia, the "father of cavernous sinus tumor surgery." This occurred when Dr. Francel was doing his residency at the University of Virginia and Dr. Dolenc was there teaching.
Dr. Vinko Dolenc
Dr. Francel told me that Arnold might be a candidate for the Gamma Knife and thereby avoid surgery. He asked us to pick up Arnold's MRI's and come on up to his office in Oklahoma City right away. Due to the urgency of the problem, Dr. Francel stayed late after his other appointments to see us. At that time, we found out that Arnold's tumor was far too large for removal with the Gamma Knife and it was increasing in size.
Dr. Francel also impressed upon us the seriousness of the tumor and stated that it "couldn't be left in there" with any expectation of a very long life span (probably several months). He recommended surgical removal and spent a long time showing us Arnold's MRI's, a model of the skull, and pictures of the proposed surgery in Dr. Dolenc's textbook, "Anatomy and Surgery of the Cavernous Sinus" which is considered the guidebook for cavernous sinus surgery. According to the Slovenia Times in 2009, the book, published in 1989, was sold out in less than one year. It was the neurosurgical book of the year and the discoveries of Dr. Dolenc were estimated as a landmark in the history of neurosurgery.
Dr. Francel told us he would use a computer during Arnold's surgery to guide his way through the tumor and brain tissue. He reminded us how the brain is not like an MRI film in two dimensions, but rather it is three-dimensional in nature. He used a plastic model of the skull to explain some things about the brain. The computer and specialized program (the Pickler Navigation System) would enable him to see the tumor and the brain in three dimensions and to rotate the picture in any direction (3-D image-guidance system). The computer would show him at all times where he was in the tumor in relation to all the other structures of the brain. When he touched an area of the brain with the navigational wand, the computer would show him where he was exactly. He would also perform several "virtual surgeries" practicing Arnold's surgery prior to actual surgery using data from his latest MRI's. The computer and a surgical microscope would be valuable tools during Arnold's surgery.
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 because of his training with Dr. Dolenc and because of surgeries he had performed since going into practice. In fact, it appeared he was one of only about ten doctors in the world thoroughly trained and qualified for it in 1999. Dr. Francel said at the time of Arnold's first surgery in early 1992, Dr. Dolenc was the only doctor in the world who could have completely removed his tumor. Also, he revealed that Arnold's tumor was one of the hardest of all brain tumors to remove because of its difficult location. In the not too distant past a tumor in that location was considered totally inaccessible. We marveled at the revelation of all that and the thought we had found Dr. Francel just in time, with God's help.
As we sat in chairs in front of Dr. Francel's desk we listened to him talk and I noticed immediately an important and comforting item on his desk right in front of me, his Bible. That spoke volumes to me about Dr. Francel and his relationship to God. I was elated and greatly encouraged.
As we left Dr. Francel's office, instead of feeling depressed or discouraged about the seriousness of Arnold's problem, we felt energized, excited, and upbeat. Our spirits soared like eagles. We knew we were so blessed to have found just the right person to help save Arnold's life. We headed out to celebrate our new found hope in the future.
At last, after two more MRI's and a grueling four and one-half hour, four-vessel angiogram of the brain (while he was awake), we found ourselves at the appointed day, August 17, 1999. As the hours slowly passed during Arnold's surgery, I thought back to the remarkable circumstances of the last four years that brought us to this momentous day. In August of 1995 when I was in a graduate class at East Central University in Ada, Oklahoma, working on my Master's degree, I became acquainted with a classmate, Billy McGowen. I learned Billy was struggling to get her Master's degree in Counseling on a very small budget--just student loans for her schooling. I admired her determination despite almost insurmountable odds, intelligence, and compassion.
Nancy and Billy at East Central University
Ada, Oklahoma - Spring 2000
Click here to see more pictures
and learn about Ada and East Central University
At 42 Billy was a recent widow with a number of cats. I became aware that she suffered from frequent seizures due to epilepsy which she had had since infancy. The seizures were debilitating and prevented her from driving and from holding anything but menial jobs. But even menial jobs disappeared as soon as she had a seizure on the job. She believed she would be able to get a good job if only she could complete her Master's degree. As a caring person, she had high hopes of helping others overcome their psychological problems.
I discovered that the worst aftereffects from her seizures were confusion and loss of memories--not a helpful thing while studying for a university degree. Having a seizure was like taking an eraser to her brain and removing all kinds of information. Also, her mouth and neck would ache after a seizure. Several times she woke up from a seizure to find herself on the ground with her belongings stolen. One time she was so confused she tried to go in a stranger's house and another time she returned to an old residence and became panicky when she thought someone had stolen her furniture and belongings.
As the semester came to the end, I knew that she was nearly out of money until the new semester started up some weeks in the future. With Christmas only a few days away I felt I should pick up some food for her and the cats. I loaded up my car with plenty of goodies and stopped by Billy's place. She was very surprised, pleased, and quite relieved. Thus was born a fine friendship.
The following semester, in May of 1996, Billy finished up the requirements for her Master's degree from East Central University. I helped out whenever I could as her finances dried up after graduation when she still could not find a job due to her epilepsy and inability to drive during employment. Eventually she was able to get on Social Security Disability and that helped a lot, but I continued to help her as much as I could when needed, giving her rides, helping her move, buying her groceries and supplies, and supporting her as a friend as her ability to function mentally deteriorated due to repeated seizures.
When she told me about the possibility of surgery to help her epilepsy through the University-Presbyterian Neurological Institute Comprehensive Oklahoma Program for Epilepsy (C.O.P.E.) at University and Presbyterian Towers, OU Medical Center in Oklahoma City, I really encouraged her to check it out. It took a year for her to complete all the tests and screening needed, including brain mapping and many others, to see if she was eligible for surgery. Finally, she was approved and the surgery was performed successfully on April 21, 1999. I am happy to say that Billy has not had any seizures since her surgery. In addition, from the moment she woke up from surgery, her mind was clear as a bell. It was striking. There was no more fuzzy thinking and confusion which had become common.
Returning to Arnold's surgery on August 17, the phone finally rang in the ICU waiting room and my name was called. I talked to the surgical nurse and she told me his surgery was over except for closing the incision, and Dr. Francel would be coming out to talk to the family in about an hour. I asked the nurse if he had gotten all the tumor out. She said yes. I was thrilled. At 5:00 p.m. a smiling Dr. Francel came up to me and other family members and said the surgery went exceptionally well and he was able to get all the tumor out. In fact, it progressed much faster than expected. I still couldn't believe those beautiful words "I GOT ALL THE TUMOR OUT." I kept rolling them around in my head. This amazing revelation was confirmed the next day with an MRI.
Dr. Francel confided to us later that he prayed a lot before Arnold's surgery, as I requested. I was very happy to hear this because of all the people praying for Arnold, the one I wanted most to pray was Dr. Francel, as the procedure was directly in his hands. In addition to Dr. Francel's great skill, I believe his prayers and those of the scores of other people praying were responsible for this stunning, excellent outcome.
After Arnold's surgery the anesthesiologist came by to visit us in the ICU and she told us how easily the tumor had been removed. 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 situated around the main artery of the brain, the carotid. Also, Dr. Francel had 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. Several times before Arnold's surgery Dr. Francel asked me if Arnold had gotten radiation treatment for his tumor. Thankfully he hadn't, or the surgery would surely have been impossible. In so many ways ours prayers were answered.
I truly believe the heart of this story is about our faith in God to heal my husband and obedience to Him--to love my neighbor as myself. Looking back, I can see how my commitment to help my good friend through all those months and years was rewarded beyond measure, by God saving my beloved husband's life. If I had not persisted, I would never have been in the right place at the right time to meet Dr. Francel, or inspired to ask for his advice and ultimately his surgical expertise to save Arnold's life. At any time along this path of four years if I had given up and gone my own way without Billy, I would never have found Dr. Francel. To me that is an amazing and at times very frightening thought, because sometimes the road was rough and discouraging. More than once I felt like giving up the struggle.
I thank God for using me to be Billy's guardian angel on earth, and I realize that finding Dr. Francel to save my husband's life was WAY BEYOND CHANCE. There was definitely a higher power involved directing my path. I read this quote recently and it really spoke to me on how Dr. Francel and I were brought together to save Arnold's life.
Amazingly, only twelve days after Arnold's radical surgery, while wearing a ball cap to cover his 14-inch horseshoe-shaped- stapled incision, he was out running, playing tennis, mowing the yard, and fixing broken electronic hardware. After five weeks he returned to work and has done extremely well. He has had no deficits or impairments as a result of this surgery. I thank God above all, Dr. Francel our hero for performing a remarkable miracle for Arnold and me, and Billy my friend for being at a place and time I could find her. I am now committed to telling Arnold’s story to let everyone around the world know that God still performs miracles and answers prayers in our present age!
And I am pleased to report that God gave us a belated but very happy anniversary with the best gift ever, Arnold’s life restored!
Courtesy of Lifetime Television Network
Click on the banner above to see the video
This story was reported on the front page of the Ada News
right before it was shown on national TV.
If you would like to learn more about Arnold's brain tumor history
click on the blue banner below "You Have a Brain Tumor"
NEWS FLASH - Arnold is still tumor free!
Thank you Dr. Francel for 17 great years August 17, 2016!!!
Important information on various subjects
Click on the box above for more links
Dr. Francel is now retired from medical practice, and
after studying for the ministry at St. Paul School of Theology in Oklahoma City, graduated 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.
He and his wife enjoy performing at the Yukon Czech Festival in their native costumes. He is working on a book and possible movie about his parents' experiences and escape from communism in Czechoslovakia during World War II and immigration to the U.S.
Click below to see Dr. Francel's great endeavor