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August 30, 2011

From brain surgery to high jump champion in four months

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Addie Coleman’s path to a high school regional title in the high jump began last December with a lack of energy, terrible morning headaches and dizziness when she closed her eyes in the shower.

Coleman’s symptoms worsened, and her pediatrician, Dr. Jack Davis, ordered a CT scan that revealed an approximately 2-inch benign tumor in her cerebellum. The cerebellum serves as the “coordination center” in the brain, says UVA pediatric neurosurgeon John Jane Jr., MD, controlling vital functions such as balance. Davis referred Coleman to UVA’s Emergency Department on Dec. 31, 2010.

On Jan. 4, 2011, Jane led a surgical team that successfully removed the tumor. As he reconstructed the back of Coleman’s skull after removing the tumor, Jane placed titanium mesh in the skull to help protect her head from any potential rough landings in the high jump pit.

But with the start of the spring track & field season just a couple of months away, Coleman’s doctors and family weren’t optimistic she’d able to compete for Lebanon High School in Lebanon, Va. “They weren’t real positive about me doing it this year,” she says. When practice began in March, she watched from the sidelines.

A fast recovery

But as she recovered from her surgery, Coleman says she felt “completely different.” The headaches and dizziness were gone, as was the tired feeling she had been unable to shake. “I had so much more energy,” she says.

She began practicing her approach to the high jump bar without jumping in late April, finding that after the surgery she had an easier time staying on the correct approach path without the tumor affecting her cerebellum. By early May, she high jumped a career best 5 feet despite pulling her hamstring during training. On May 13, she won her district meet, and on May 21 she won the Virginia High School League’s (VHSL) Class A Region D title before going on to tie for 11 th at the VHSL Class A meet in June. Her strong showings brought her joy and relief.

“I was just so amazed I could do it, and so happy I was feeling better,” she says.

Coleman’s amazement was shared by her neurosurgeon at UVA. “I was surprised and impressed at how well she’s done,” Jane says.

Coleman, 19, plans to continue high jumping at Roanoke College, where she begins her freshman year this week. As she trains for her first season as a college athlete, she remains thankful for the staff at UVA who helped her return to high jumping so quickly.

“The nurses were so great – I never had a bad nurse,” she says. “And Dr. Jane was always so positive – it made the situation much more positive for me.”

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