Dan Ampietro: So thankful to be alive

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Longtime Parks and Recreation director recounts battle with brain tumor

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  • Ampietro
    Ampietro
  • This is the incision from the surgery that removed a grapefruit-sized tumor from the brain of Dan Ampietro. Now, he is back to nearly 100%, including being able to enjoy a favorite winter recreation of cross country skiing (above).
    This is the incision from the surgery that removed a grapefruit-sized tumor from the brain of Dan Ampietro. Now, he is back to nearly 100%, including being able to enjoy a favorite winter recreation of cross country skiing (above).

I have told this story to a lot of people who wonder what happened to me. I ran into Chis and asked if the Times would be kind enough to put it in print so that I do not have to relive it so often.

I was doing poorly during most of 2018 and 2019. We could not figure out what was wrong. A diagnosis of depression was made in the spring of 2019, however that medication made me mellow but did not help my problems.

By the summer of 2019 I could barely function. Concentration was difficult and I had trouble performing tasks, such as putting on my socks. Day to day work tasks like preparing projects for bids were impossible.

Jenny, my wife of 38 years, knew there was something seriously wrong. Jen and her brother Ray finally convinced me to go to the ER one evening when the headaches got excruciating. Jen demanded full blood work and a brain scan. The brain MRI revealed a grapefruit sized meningioma tumor on the right side of my brain.

If you have to have a brain tumor a meningioma is the least likely to be cancerous. Flying me out to have emergency surgery was discussed with a neurosurgeon who decided that the best course of action was to administer steroids to shrink the swelling of the brain prior to surgery. Surgery was scheduled for Oct. 15, 2019.

A six-hour surgery was performed to remove the tumor. We were informed after the surgery that all of the tumor tissue was removed and that the biopsy showed that there was no cancer. I cannot recall much else right after surgery. Jen tells me that I was out of it, anxious and paranoid.

On day three after surgery, I developed a brain fluid leak coming through my sinus and out of my nose. I distinctly remember sitting up holding a towel catching this pink fluid coming out of my nose. The taste was terrible. The neurosurgeon told us that he was going to have to open my skull back up and seal the leak from the inside.

A six-inch piece of fat was harvested from the right side of my stomach and used to seal the leak. A spinal tap was inserted with a bag to relieve pressure.

Recovery from the second surgery did not go well. I could not open one eye, was incoherent, and began to lapse into a coma. Jen was holding my hand and said to squeeze it if I was in trouble and I did.

She contacted the surgeon, explaining how bad I was and that something had to be done. He agreed and decided to open me back up a third time to relieve the pressure and clean the area inside the brain. The third surgery helped to some degree. A mask was strapped to my head and massive doses of oxygen were administered in an attempt to reduce the air space inside my skull. The oxygen slowly began to work.

The amount of medication I was taking, both intravenously and orally, was staggering. My veins began to collapse and a port was inserted into my neck to administer drugs. I began to recover and was taken out of ICU and placed in rehab at the hospital and was actually scheduled to go home the following week.

Jen and I were Facetiming a few nights later and I passed out during the conversation. She called the hospital in a panic to have someone check on me. Turns out, several blood clots had gone to my lungs so I was rushed for emergency surgery to place a blood clot filter in the artery leading to the lungs and spent two more weeks in ICU.

I was back to using a walker. Odds were that I was going to have to go into a nursing home for the care I needed and the rehab. Jen worked her magic and got me into Montrose Memorial Hospital for rehab, which was a fantastic place for me. Three more weeks of rehab and a quarantined bout with the Norovirus later and I was cleared to go home. It was so great to hear that news. I was in the hospital for 70 days, most of that in ICU.

When I arrived home on Christmas Eve, I made slow but steady progress and was able to build up my strength. Late night cookie binges prior to my surgery swelled me up to 190 pounds. Exercise and a healthy diet brought me back down to my normal weight. I am now close to 100% and can do most everything I could do before.

We were told that it can take up to two years for a full recovery. Meningioma tumors are slow growing and it is believed that mine had been growing for more than two years.

We are truly fortunate and blessed that I survived let alone have all of my faculties about me. I want to thank Jenny and her brother for making me go to the hospital in the first place. Jen slept on the couch by my side for three weeks and saved my life three times during the entire dilemma. My aunt Dianna visited me at the hospital every day. You certainly find out who truly cares about you during times like this.

I am so thankful to be alive.

(Dan Ampietro worked for the City of Gunnison for 38 years, most of that as Director of Parks and Recreation.)

A six-hour surgery was performed to remove the tumor. We were informed after the surgery that all of the tumor tissue was removed and that the biopsy showed that there was no cancer. I cannot recall much else right after surgery. Jen tells me that I was out of it, anxious and paranoid.