ST. LOUIS - It’s never easy when a doctor or nurse becomes a patient. The same is true for physician assistants (PAs), as Tori Sutton, a critical care PA, can attest when she was diagnosed with a brain tumor in July 2013.
Sutton woke with numbness of the right ear. It was an odd symptom but since she was also experiencing a fever, she was diagnosed with otitis media (an ear infection) at a local urgent care.
“I was still confused because an ear infection is internal not external, so I didn’t understand why the outside of my ear would be numb,” Sutton recalled.
A few days later, she started experiencing a severe headache.
“When I lost the sense of taste on the right side of my tongue, I knew it was more than an ear infection but still didn’t think it was neurological,” Sutton said.
An MRI showed a mass in the right frontal lobe area of the brain. On July 25, Sutton underwent a craniectomy and tumor resection by Neurosurgeon Dr. Thomas Forget and Neurosurgery Physician Assistant Becky Marsh, at Mercy Hospital St. Louis.
“My husband was freaked out but I was never worried,” Sutton said. “I knew I would get great care. I knew if it turned out to be something more serious, my fellow PAs and the doctors and nurses would do a great job talking with my family.”
Sutton left the hospital a few days after her surgery, but she continued to have severe headaches. Her first follow-up appointment with Molly Dilley, neurosurgery PA, prompted another CT scan of her brain that didn’t show any changes. However, she continued to have headaches. When she started vomiting, she called Dr. Forget who immediately did a lumbar puncture to assess the pressure in her brain. It was low enough that no further surgical interventions were needed, which was welcome news as Sutton was planning on of her daughters’ birthday party that weekend.
At the party, Sutton noticed her right arm felt numb and later that evening her right arm became completely limp and non-functional. An emergency MRI showed a clot had caused a stroke in her brain, a complication caused by Sutton’s rare genetic condition that causes her to clot more than the average person.
Sutton was again admitted to Mercy Hospital St. Louis and started on blood thinning agents. Each day, she was closely monitored and cared for by Dr. Forget and his three physician assistants – Molly Dilley, Becky Marsh and Angela Genisio – as well as Kelly Weir, critical care PA in the Mercy ICU. When she left the hospital, Sutton spent time at Mercy Rehabilitation Hospital to work on mobility in her arm. She’s now back to work and soon back to Mercy working part-time as a critical care PA.
“It’s definitely easier being a PA than a patient; going through this was not easy,” Sutton said. “Though, Mercy’s my home and it’s where I’m comfortable.”
While most patients might not make that comment, Sutton actually has close ties to Mercy. In 2005, she pioneered the advanced practitioners group for Mercy Critical Care at Mercy Hospital St. Louis where she spent several years training physician assistants as well as nurse practitioners in the ICU and on the hospital’s inpatient medical emergency team. Since becoming a physician assistant, Sutton has worked in several medical specialties.
Weir said, “We could not be more proud of Tori. She is such an inspirational patient, physician assistant, mentor and friend.”
Happy Physician Assistants Week to all the amazing PAs who help care for our patients every day.
What is a Physician Assistant? A PA is a nationally certified and state-licensed medical professional who works as part of the care team with the supervision of a physician. They perform physical examinations, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret lab tests, perform procedures, assist in surgery, provide patient education and counseling and make rounds in hospitals and nursing homes. All 50 states and the District of Columbia allow PAs to practice and prescribe medications.