In 2014, 17-year-old Marichu Rosales Brun began experiencing persistent numbness and pain in her upper right thigh. The active teenager and avid tennis player suspected something was wrong. Her instincts were right. After her family consulted with doctors near her home in Colima, Mexico, they learned Marichu had a thoracic spinal tumor that threatened her mobility.
"In Colima, they didn't have the technical resources to take care of Marichu," her dad, Guillermo Rosales, says. "So we made a decision to come to Mayo."
In August 2016, the family traveled to Mayo Clinic's Florida campus to meet with neurosurgeons Clarence Watridge, M.D., and Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa, M.D. They confirmed the tumor was compressing Marichu's spinal cord.
"We were concerned about her because her condition would have worsened without surgery. The likelihood is that she would have lost the ability to walk," Dr. Watridge says. "She's only 17, and the decisions that we made would impact her for many years to come."
After assessing Marichu's condition, Dr. Watridge and Dr. Quinones-Hinojosa recommended a procedure known as a laminoplasty. Initially, the thought of the spine surgery worried Marichu.
Dr. Quinones-Hinojosa, who patients often call Dr. Q, was quick to try to allay her fears. "I promise you that we'll take care of your loved one the way I would take care of my daughter," he told the family.
"My view as a surgeon is: Let me take the stress from you," he says. "Let me worry about what's going to happen after today."
That attitude made a world of difference for Marichu.
"Meeting with Dr. Q and Dr. Watridge really helped me to settle down, and I could ask all my questions," Marichu says. "They really helped me to be calm and relaxed."
Feeling more confident about surgery, Marichu underwent the procedure on Sept. 1, 2016. With ultrasound guidance, the neurosurgeons detected and removed most of the spinal tumor. They couldn't get it all because they discovered that the tumor had roots that grew into the spinal cord. As a result, Marichu's care team will continue to monitor her condition carefully over time.
When she got out of surgery, Marichu found she had work to do to regain her mobility. As part of recovery, Marichu completed months of physical therapy and rehabilitation.
Her dedication paid off. Today she can walk on her own.
"She's very driven. She knows what she wants to do, and she gets there. And she does it," Marichu's mom, Cristina Brun, says.
Since then, Marichu has returned to Mexico. In June 2017, she fulfilled one of her dreams when she joined Dr. Quinones-Hinojosa on a mission trip to the Hospital Civil de Guadalajara in Guadalajara, Mexico, through his nonprofit foundation, Mission: BRAIN.
Marichu recently graduated from high school and has started her first year at the Universidad Panamericana in Guadalajara, Mexico, majoring in administration and hospitality. Looking ahead, she's excited for all that is to come, and she's determined to succeed.
"I've done a ton of things that I didn't think I was going to do after surgery, like practicing yoga and playing tennis again," Marichu says. "You just can't give up. You need to have hope."
Watch this video to learn more about Marichu's story: