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When Hope Seemed Lost, Hopkins Was There

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In a family photo from 1989, Rob Horlacher, with his nurse, and Benjamin Carson, M.D., are all smiles after surgery.

January 24, 2011
A Parent's Story
by Karen Horlacher

In 1989, pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson and the medical and nursing team at Hopkins Children’s restored a future to my then 11-year-old son, Rob. In the wake of a devastating diagnosis, when there seemed no hope, Johns Hopkins was there to ease the pain. We didn’t have to worry about him not having the best care, but rather what the surgeons would find.   

Four years earlier, Rob had begun having seizures. His doctors called them idiopathic, meaning they were of unknown origin, but a specialist prescribed anti-seizure medication. When the seizures continued, the specialist increased the dose until it reached an adult level. Concerned by this and Rob’s glazed expression, I took him to yet another doctor who told me ‘He looks all right to me.’ I was livid. I knew my son and he was not all right. Something had to change and fast. In a phone call with Rob’s neurologist, I learned there was a new test that might provide some answers: an MRI.When the results came back, I learned our son likely had a brain tumor and needed a pediatric neurosurgeon. I told him,‘You’d better get Ben Carson!’  

Days later, Rob was at Hopkins Children’s in surgery with Carson, chief of pediatric neurosurgery, who with his team removed an astrocytoma. Because the tumor had been encapsulated and on the outside of Rob’s brain and because they had been able to remove all of it, Carson and his colleagues recommended holding off on a course of radiation that typically follows brain tumor surgery, but causes its own problems. Their expertise and experience paid off. My son returned to good health and without brain damage.  

Today,Rob is a healthy adult, with a wife and two beautiful children of his own. We were so lucky that such an operation was possible and that we lived near the people and hospital that could offer it. He was made to feel special at Hopkins. Everyone was just fantastic and he loved his doctors and nurses. I was confident that Hopkins would make the best possible outcome possible.The name itself just inspires confidence. I look at Rob today and thank our lucky stars.  

When she recently joined the staff at Hernwood Elementary School, in Randallstown, Md., Horlacher recognized a fellow staffer, music teacher Anita Rozenel. They had met at Hopkins Children’s in 1989, when during her ongoing volunteer rounds there to entertain patients, Rozenel had stopped by Rob’s hospital room to play for him. Horlacher hopes now to pay it forward with some volunteer service of her own through the Baltimore County school-based philanthropy program that Rozenel launched in the 1990s on the hospital’s behalf, Kids Helping Hopkins.  

Horlacher and her family live in Maryland.