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Voices of Our Patients — Becoming Legendary Requires Being Bold

kimon2Kimon Bekelis, MD
Department of Neurosurgery, Thomas Jefferson University
Instructor, the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice

Greg was seven-years-old when his family received the devastating news that he was suffering from a brain tumor with a dismal prognosis. Due to his parents’ persistence, he received a revolutionary operation at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota from Patrick J. Kelly, MD, FAANS(L). After months of rehabilitation, Greg was able to look at life through a positive lens again. He is now an ultramarathon runner and enjoys every second of his life. Greg distilled his early life struggles and passion for life in a book titled, “Enduring Strength: The Story of the Other Hansbrough Brother.” Here, in his own words, is Greg’s story.

By Greg Hansbrough

“History is made by the bold.” One of the classic movie quotes from “Sandlot” said it best, “Heroes get remembered, but legends never die.” Bold moves have laid the foundation for incredible advances in medicine. Throughout the years, the Mayo Clinic has remained one of the leading medical institutions in the country, providing technology and developing procedures that set it apart from other hospitals. In this context, it laid the groundwork for legends of the profession to develop. It is through this foundation that a heroic doctor became a legend and performed the surgery that saved my life.

Before my surgery, I was the best athlete and student in my class. My future looked bright, and everything in my life was easy. I then began to experience headaches and heard stories from my friends about getting headaches from school. I assumed that must be what was going on and dismissed the pain. But, the headaches became more intense and felt as though I had a lead weight in my head.

One night, my dad, an accomplished orthopaedic surgeon, asked me to eat dinner with my left hand. I tried with everything in my seven-year-old body, but could not accomplish this simple task. As a precaution, we went to the hospital, where a CAT scan revealed a tumor in my brain.  We drove through the night to a research institution for treatment. It was at this hospital the doctors delivered a grim message to my parents. They told them that there was nothing they could do and they should prepare for my death in a few months. We drove home after receiving this news.

Dr. Patrick J. Kelly

Dr. Patrick J. Kelly

My dad went above and beyond in search of a miracle for me and set out on a quest for a second opinion. He called all the medical contacts he could use trying to find a doctor that would perform the risky procedure to save my life. After an exhaustive search, he identified two surgeons that could perform the procedure to save my life. One was Dr. Patrick J. Kelly at the Mayo Clinic, and the other was a surgeon in Siberia. My dad called Dr. Kelly, and during the conversation, he agreed to use a procedure that was experimental and incredibly risky at the time. The Mayo Clinic was the only institution with the technology available for Dr. Kelly to take one step closer to becoming a legend.

Once we arrived in Minnesota, Dr. Kelly explained the risks of performing the operation and that the stereotactic procedure he was going to use was experimental and there was a good chance that I would not make it out of surgery. 

I remember being wheeled in my bed down the hallway towards the surgical unit, my parents gripping my bed and holding my hand until they could no longer follow me. As I was being wheeled through the doors, I looked up and saw my parents breaking down crying in each other’s arms as they experienced the realization that they may never see me alive again.               

It was then that Dr. Kelly stepped into the light and performed the procedure that would save my life. As the anesthesia caused me to close my eyes, the surgeon began to add another example of his legendary craft. As the hours rolled by, he meticulously performed the operation.    

I awoke the next day with the lead weight feeling removed from atop my shoulders. They immediately tried to get me on my feet to see the damage that the surgery had created. As I tried to stand, doctors and my parents both ready to catch me if I fell, the boy that was the best athlete in school could not walk. All I could do was hop on my right leg, but I was alive. After a couple of months of rehab, I relearned to walk. I went on to be the captain of my high school basketball team, run marathons, and am now an ultramarathon runner that has a burning passion for trail running and an inner glow for life. My life would not be possible had it not been for the boldness of the legendary brain surgeon who chose to be intrepid and further solidify his legend in the world of neurosurgery.

Greg Hansbrough (middle)

Greg Hansbrough (middle)

One Comment

  • Connie says:

    I was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor in 1973, and was preparing to die as it grew. When Dr. Kelly’s colleague wasn’t available, he told my parents that HE could do the surgery. And he DID in 1974. Though my prognosis had been possible infertility and baldness and death, Dr. Kelly operated successfully on the congenital Choroid Plexus Papilloma and I have thrived, had 2 beautiful children and been ever and forever grateful for him and his skill and his mindset and his ethics. He is a great man

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