ANNA — When a couple marries, part of the wedding vows they exchange includes the phrase “in sickness and in health.”
For Aaron and Kelly Edwards, of Anna, those vows were front and center over the summer when a mass — a cavernous malformation — was discovered on Aaron’s brainstem.
Their journey began when Aaron began feeling dizzy in the spring.
“His symptoms came on slowly,” said Kelly. “Then they just got worse and worse.”
The couple attributed his dizziness and tiredness to a day when he worked, had a triple death call overnight when he was on call, and then he worked the next day.
“We were all out of whack,” said Kelly. “His dad had passed away in December, and we were all still dealing with that.”
As Aaron’s symptoms got worse, he began experiencing numbness in his face and had a hard time speaking.
“I couldn’t answer the phone,” he said. “I had a hard time communicating. I thought it was allergies.”
Aaron and his brother, Erik, are the owners of Cromes-Edwards Funeral Home, Sidney. And being able to communicate with the families of those they serve was vital for Aaron.
Aaron’s father, Phillip, was the family’s physician. When he passed away, Aaron was without a physician. Trying to find a physician who could see him right away was another challenge for the couple. Many of the physicians couldn’t see him until the end of June. Luckily, they were able to see a nurse practitioner on June 4.
“The symptoms were slowly progressing, and I didn’t feel like myself,” said Aaron.
Kelly went with Aaron to his appointment because she felt she could add to Aaron’s story of how he was feeling.
“They ordered a CT just in case,” said Kelly. “Twenty minutes after we left that appointment, the office called and said they’d like him to come in for an MRI in an hour. Ten minutes later they called again and said to come now.”
The MRI discovered a mass smaller than a golf ball or about the size of a bouncy ball on Aaron’s brainstem.
“I could have been born with it and it developed over the years,” said Aaron. “They don’t really know.”
On June 11, Kelly posted on Facebook the journey they were undertaking.
“Not sure even how to start as I’m looking for words to explain what’s happening … Had to take my husband Aaron to ER in Columbus on Tuesday…they found a mass/lesion on his brain stem but unsure still exactly what it is… the neurosurgeon at Riverside said it is deep/bad location,very rare, has only seen 2-3 in his career, Aaron needs brain surgery to remove it and it’s above his skill level (which is scary because Riverside is known for their Neuro). He said they only have one shot at it, it’s very risky and he needs the best to try to operate. The brain stem is the connecting highway for everything from spine to brain, affects pretty much everything …heart, breathing, walking, talking….At this point he has been referred to the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, Arizona to a Dr. (Michael) Lawton. We are waiting to hear from his Doctor for a surgical plan and dates for his appointments. He is stable, taking it easy at home, just waiting….,” she wrote.
When they called the Barrow Neurological Institute, it was to discover that Lawton was in Finland at a conference. Aaron’s sister, Amy Frazier, took to Twitter and tweeted Lawton and sent him Aaron’s medical records and scans.
Lawton accepted Aaron as a patient, and he was told to call the office to schedule an appointment. Surgery was scheduled for June 25 in Arizona.
His brother, Erik, posted this on Facebook on June 24: “For those of you that have been continuously offering your prayers and support to my brother, Aaron Edwards, and to his family, we are so grateful. To all of you, and to those of you that may have been just following silently, or are just now seeing this; please don’t stop praying now. Tomorrow Aaron will undergo a 4-6 hour open brain surgery. The risks are as you can imagine, very great, but are worth taking to allow him to continue being the great husband, father, son, brother, business partner and friend he has always been. Pray that God will overshadow Aaron and his family in his grace and mercy; that He would show himself mighty and guide the minds and hands of this skilled surgeon, Michael T. Lawton, MD, and all others involved in this extremely meticulous procedure.”
In addition to Kelly and Aaron going to Arizona, their sons, Clayton, 13, and Carter, 11, along with both mothers and Aaron’s sister made the journey with them. Daughter, Callie, 5, stayed in Ohio with Kelly’s sister.
The couple talked to their children about what was happening to Aaron.
“Clayton understood the gravity of the situation,” said Aaron. “We explained what was going on.”
The children were shown their dad’s MRI when he was in the hospital in Columbus. They knew he had to have surgery.
“Clayton and Carter went with us to Phoenix,” said Kelly. “That could have been the last time they saw their dad. They prayed with him, and they could just be with him.”
Flying out for surgery left a lot of unanswered questions for them. “How long would we be here?” “Would Aaron be able to fly home after the surgery or would they have to drive cross-country?”
“Our pastor flew out the day of the surgery,” said Kelly. “It was hard to be across the country from everyone. We didn’t know how long we’d be there. We didn’t know if he would be able to talk or if he’d need rehab.”
Friends and neighbors reached out to the couple during their journey.
“A neighbor’s dad lived out there, and he reached out and said if we needed to stay just to let him know and we could stay at his house,” said Kelly. “We had one-way tickets for Aaron, his mom and me.”
After arriving in Arizona, Aaron went through pre-op on June 24. The day of the surgery it took two hours to prep him and make sure he was in the right position. Then they waited for five hours as the surgeon performed the delicate job of removing the mass.
“Twenty years ago, there wouldn’t have been this technology available,” said Aaron.
The only place his hair was cut was just around the surgery site. A halo was screwed into his head so it couldn’t move.
During the surgery, Lawton was able to remove the entire mass in one piece.
“If it had broken apart and some of it left in the brainstem, Aaron would have had another surgery within days to remove the rest of it,” said Kelly, who added the mass could grow back if it wasn’t entirely removed.
“The results were excellent,” said Aaron. “I still have some terrible nerve pain.”
The couple said during surgery a nerve was touched, which is causing the pain and numbness in his face. It will take 12 to 18 months for everything to be back to “normal.”
Kelly said she doesn’t remember much of the doctor coming out after surgery to tell them how Aaron did.
“It’s a blur,” she said. “He came out and said they got all the tumor out. I started bawling out of relief.
“But the doctor did say they won’t know everything until Aaron wakes up,” she said. “He said it rolled against the nerve but that he did get it all out.”
They said the mass was encapsulated in a slippery sack. The doctor was able to drain the fluid off it and then pulled the mass out in one piece. An MRI was performed to make sure all the mass was removed, and it was.
After the surgery, Aaron tested out of physical, speech and occupational therapy.
“He made it leaps and bounds in his recovery,” said Kelly. “In the big picture, things couldn’t have gone better. God answered our prayers.”
The doctors wanted to dismiss him from the Phoenix hospital just two days after surgery.
“I said, ‘What, I just had brain surgery.’ They kept telling me I was healing,” said Aaron, who was discharged three days after surgery. He had 18 staples in his head where the surgery was performed.
With no restrictions, the family flew home to Ohio, where Aaron continues his recovery from surgery.
“I’m thankful for my brother, Erik,” said Aaron. “He kept the business going. He did everything he could and then some.
“All of the guys here (at the funeral home) stepped up for us,” he said.
“They allowed us to focus on Aaron and his health and not the business,” said Kelly. “They have worked so hard to continue the (Cromes) traditions.”
Aaron quietly recovered at home throughout the summer.
“He was diagnosed on my last day of school for the summer,” said Kelly. “The kids didn’t have homework or school so we could concentrate on Aaron. This was all in God’s time, and we had quality time at home. We had time to be thankful to be together. We know what could have happened to Aaron.”
Aaron took all of June and July off from work. He started back at work in August and has slowly increased the number of hours he’s working each week. In September he started taking night calls.
“I wanted to get back to work as they all had a long summer,” said Aaron.
Kelly and Aaron said this life-threatening experience has strengthened their marriage. They both admit that they knew they loved one another, but this crisis has brought them closer together.
Aaron has been able to resume some of his favorite activities. They took a motorcycle ride in the late summer. He also bagged a deer during deer season recently. He and his son Carter went hunting this week, and Carter was able to get his own deer.
They said they are still processing the whirlwind of emotions they have felt since June.
“We’ve learned to take things slower,” said Kelly. “We’ve learned to simplify things to keep our stress levels down. And we’re thankful for the change of seasons. Now we can cozy up by the fire, read and have some quality time.”
The couple also expressed their gratitude for everyone who prayed for Aaron and his family and the support they received from neighbors, friends, Facebook and social media posts and from Christian Academy School, where Kelly is employed.
“We can’t thank everyone enough,” they said.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4822.