PORT CLINTON -- Nicole Ford, a 16-year-old sophomore at Port Clinton High School, is preparing to under go brain surgery Thursday at the Cleveland Clinic.
Nicole was originally diagnosed with Scoliosis, a curvature of the spine, two years ago when she began to experience extreme headaches and loss of mobility. She began treatment at the Shriners Hospital in Pittsburgh. But her condition did not improve and on Sept. 10, 2004, while performing as a member of flag corps during a football game against Genoa, Nicole collapsed and was taken to the hospital.
Then on Dec. 13, Nicole underwent a MRI scan at St. Vincent's Mercy Medical Hospital in Toledo. Three days later, the Ford family learned from their local doctor, Carl Steele, that Nicole suffered from Chiari type One malformation -- a rare condition where the brainstem is displaced downward, putting pressure on both the brain and spinal cord and also constricting the normal flow of cerebrospinal fluid. The condition is progressive. Without corrective measures, Chiari Malformation could lead to paralysis, doctors say.
"We were concerned when Dr. Steele said they had found something and that we should come into his office," said Nicole's mother, Donna Ford. "It was then that we realized it must be pretty serious."
Nicole's father, Jeff Ford, said, "It's a pretty rare thing. Dr. Steele told us that in his 25 years of practice, Nicole was only the third case he had seen like this."
Dr. Mark Luciano of the Cleveland Clinic is scheduled to perform the procedure. He has completed more than 60 such operations with a 98 percent success rate.
Recovery time during the post surgical period is expected to last at least six weeks. Physical therapy, additional treatment, testing and monitoring are all part of the healing process.
Exact details, such as time of the surgery and possible projected difficulties, will not be known until an additional MRI scan is performed on Feb. 16, one day prior to the scheduled procedure.
Despite the challenges that Nicole's immediate future holds, her spirit remains strong and undaunted. When asked how she felt about the upcoming surgery, Nicole smiled and said, "I'm a little scared but I'm staying positive."
"She has a smile for everyone she meets," said Nicole's father. "She's the most unselfish person and always puts the welfare of others before her own. We're very proud of her. She has a huge heart."
Friends and family members have come together to help. Bobbie Riesterer, who came to know Nicole through her involvement with the school's flag corps, has put together gift baskets that were auctioned off at the school's winter formal dance.
"Nicole has a very generous and kind heart," said Riesterer. "I've seen Nicole take on projects and see them through even when she had to do it on her own. I just wanted to do something to help her."
Long time friends of the Ford family, Kathy and John Drummer, have agreed to take care of Nicole's siblings, 13-year-old Katrina and 6-year-old Wesley, while Jeff and Donna travel to Cleveland to be bedside for the operation.
Fellow students at the high school have also stepped up. Donations have been made by the school's band, Leadership Council and flag corps.
"We want to thank everyone in the community who has come forward to help," said Jeff Ford. "It really has meant a lot."