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Young mom faces spinal surgery

Cranbrook’s Sims family is facing tough times as mom Brandy prepares for surgery on her spinal cord this month. - For the Townsman
Cranbrook’s Sims family is facing tough times as mom Brandy prepares for surgery on her spinal cord this month.
— image credit: For the Townsman

Townsman Staff

A Cranbrook family of five is reeling after learning that stay-at-home mom Brandy Sims is suffering from a rate brain condition that could leave her paralyzed without surgery.

In March, doctors found Brandy has a rare congenital brain condition that is giving her daily headaches and pain and numbness in her hands. While she was born with the condition, called a Chiari brain malformation, Brandy only began noticing symptoms last year.

"I started noticing in the fall that I was getting a lot of pain and weakness in my hands, and then I started getting headaches in February. I generally don't get headaches, and I was getting them four or five times a week. I went to see the doctor about the headaches and just mentioned off hand that my hands were bothering me a lot," she said. "She sent me for skads of testing and they found the brain malformation."

While the malformation affects 1 in 1,000 people, in most cases the person won't even be aware as it won't ever present symptoms.

However, that's not so for Brandy, 38, who is married with three children aged seven, five and one.

The malformation at the base of her skull has developed into a condition called syringomyelia, which damages the spinal cord.

"It blocks the flow of spinal fluid and permeates into the spinal cord and creates a pocket that is filled with fluid and puts pressure on my nerves," said Brandy.

Left unchecked, the condition could lead to nerve damage and even paralysis.

After a rushed trip to Kelowna to meet with a surgeon in March, Brandy and husband James made the obvious decision to proceed with surgery, which will relieve the compression of the brainstem.

But the busy stay-at-home mom will be in hospital for four days and require months of rehabilitation afterwards. For up to three months after the surgery, Brandy won't be able to sit or stand for more than two hours a day, and she won't be able to bend to tie a shoe, unload the dishwasher, or pick up a child. It can take up to a year after surgery for the pressure on the spinal cord to be relieved.

"It's extremely frightening, but you try and stay positive. You can't give yourself the option of thinking in a negative manner. The kids need me and my husband needs me," she said.

Brandy's middle child has autism, and she has been a prominent promotor of autism awareness in Cranbrook for several years, hosting events such as the Art For Autism fundraiser last year.

Now she is on the other side of that, with her best friend Coral Colgur organizing a fundraising drive to help the Sims through the financial difficulty accompanying the surgery.

"Usually I'm on the other end of things. It's different, but we definitely appreciate it," said Brandy.

A donation webpage has been set up at www.youcaring.com. Already generous donations are coming in for the family.

"Every time I look at it I'm in tears. It's really beautiful to see such good in people, even people I don't know and people I haven't seen in 20 years," said Brandy. "It will be a lifesaver, really. I'm not sure what we would do without it."

As James will return to work after Brandy's surgery, the Sims will have expenses that include child care, housekeeping, travel costs for at least three medical trips to Kelowna, and rehabilitation costs. Gifts from the community will help the family cover those expenses.

"We wish to express our gratitude to everybody who's rallying (around us). So many people are offering to make us food, help with our pets, the kids, housekeeping, whatever they can do. It's wonderful," said Brandy.

You can find the donation webpage by visiting www.youcaring.com and searching for "Brandy Sims".

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