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Taylor Resting After Removal of Brain Tumor

Surgery: The three-hour procedure went smoothly, doctors say. The actress is expected to be hospitalized for about a week.

February 21, 1997|THOMAS H. MAUGH II | TIMES MEDICAL WRITER

Actress Elizabeth Taylor was "resting comfortably" in the intensive care unit of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center on Thursday after a three-hour operation to remove a golf ball-sized tumor that was pressing against her brain, doctors said.

"Everything went quite smoothly," said Dr. Martin Cooper, Cedars' clinical chief of neurosurgery. "The tumor appears to be benign and was totally removed."

Cooper said he expected Taylor, who will turn 65 Thursday, to remain in the hospital about a week.

Leading a team of doctors, Cooper began the operation shortly after 9:15 a.m., using a computerized wand to remove the growth in the lining of the left parietal lobe, above and behind Taylor's left ear.

A bevy of reporters, TV crews and still photographers stood watch outside the facility on Beverly Boulevard and Gracie Allen Drive, waiting all day for word from Taylor's physicians. The actress' four children and several older grandchildren awaited word in a secluded section of the medical center, hospital spokesman Ron Wise said.

Shortly after noon, when the news emerged that the operation had been a success, flowers from well-wishers began to arrive, Wise said, adding: "In a couple of days, I expect this to look like a tropical forest."

The two-time Academy Award-winner, beset in recent years with a series of health problems, was told about the tumor after an annual physical exam on Feb. 3, her publicist said.

The tumor grew on the dura--a thin piece of leather-like tissue that holds the brain in place.

Taylor's physicians answered few medical questions at a news conference after the operation. But Dr. Christopher Duma, a brain surgeon at Good Samaritan Hospital, said the kind of tumor Taylor had is benign 99% of the time.

The tumors, called meningiomas, don't actually invade the brain; rather, they press against it--like a golf ball pressing against a jello mold--squeezing brain cells and interfering with their function.

To perform the operation, Duma said, surgeons first locate the tumor using what's known as a stereotactical navigating system, which includes a rigid shell that holds the patient's head in position and a probe or wand attached to a robotic arm.

Using information from MRI brain scans, a computer places the wand directly over the tumor so surgeons can make the smallest incision possible.

Because of the growth's location, surgeons probably had to shave only a quarter-inch-wide path through Taylor's hair before making an inch-long incision in the scalp directly over the tumor, Duma said. Normally, they then would saw through the skull and cut through the dura surrounding the growth in order to free it.

Working slowly and guided by a three-dimensional image of the tumor, the doctors insert small cotton pads between the tumor and the brain tissue, to protect the brain and dislodge the growth.

Once the pads are worked completely under the growth, the tumor would simply be lifted out, Dura said. With no blood vessels or other connections between the tumor and the brain tissue, no cutting would be required.

The dura itself would then be patched using pericardium--a thin membrane that surrounds the heart--from a cow.

Dura said recovery should be quick and in general, there is less than a 10% chance of the tumor recurring at the same site.

"She probably could be discharged tomorrow, but you never do that with a brain tumor patient," Duma said. "You keep them for two days at least."

Although unlikely, the procedure, like any form of surgery, presents about a 1% risk of infection, hemorrhage or another severe problem, doctors said.

Other than promoting her line of perfumes, Taylor has spent the bulk of her time in recent years as an AIDS activist. According to published reports, Taylor had been suffering severe migraine headaches, but attributed them to stress.

In addition to several spinal surgeries and a history of back, neck and leg pain, Taylor has had three hip replacement operations in the last three years.

Two years ago, she was hospitalized with an irregular heartbeat and in 1990 almost died of respiratory problems. During that bout, Taylor spent two months in the hospital with pneumonia.

Her illnesses left Taylor addicted to pain killers. She met her seventh husband, Larry Fortensky, during a 1988 stay at the Betty Ford Clinic.

That marriage--her eighth because she was married to actor Richard Burton two times--ended in divorce last year.

Recently a new series of tragedies plagued Taylor, including the deaths of her mother, her longtime publicist Chen Sam and her friend Bernard Lafferty.

During a January interview with Barbara Walters, Taylor spoke about her health.

"My mother lived to be 99," she said. "I had an uncle who died at 102. I guess I have good genes.

"Oh, I really don't think I want to live to be 99. But I think sometimes I am indestructible."

Taylor's spokeswoman said the actress asked that donations be made to the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation in lieu of flowers.

Times staff writer Abigail Goldman contributed to this story.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Taylor's Surgery

Elizabeth Taylor underwent surgery Thursday to remove a benign brain tumor, called a meningioma, from the left side of her brain.

*

The procedure

* Small incision is made in scalp.

* Bone is cut away.

* Layer between the skull and brain called the dura is removed.

* Surgeon works small cotton pads under the tumor until it is separated from the brain. Tumor is lifted out.

* Dura is replaced, using either a synthetic membrane or tissue from a cow's heart.

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