Patients Stories

Request for a Wedding

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  November 22, 2013 at 6:35am facebook
Wendy Bobadilla, Assistant to the Associate Director for Patient Services, enjoys helping to arrange bridal showers, baby showers and weddings in her private life, but it is not at all part of her job responsibilities at VA New York Harbor Healthcare System. Tanya Garcia, RN, PCTC, Surgical Intensive Care Unit (SICU) doesn’t really like arranging parties, but says, “this was an exception.”

On this occasion, both were up to the challenge of coordinating a beautiful wedding within 24 hours, upon learning that SICU brain cancer patient Michael Mellnick, a Vietnam-era Navy Veteran, had his heart set on marrying his sweetheart, Deborah Somfelth before being scheduled for surgery on Thursday morning, November 21.

Key to the preparations were members of the Harbor’s Chaplaincy staff, headed by Chaplain Andrew Sioleti, and Sr. Maureen Mitchell, Chaplaincy Training Supervisor, who all made this wedding a special priority. Members of the Chaplaincy team worked with Bobadilla and Garcia to prepare the Chapel. They decorated the room with large, lush colorful roses, supplied a cake, and set out coffee, tea and other beverages. Even a small boom box was in place for music. Meanwhile, Deborah was finalizing paperwork required for the marriage, obtaining rings and arranging for close family and friends to attend. Chaplaincy Resident Reverend Victoria Carr performed the wedding service and Cantor Sarah Silverberg and Chaplaincy intern Alexi Waggoner read from Christian and Jewish Scriptures.

Facebook PictureUntil about a week before the operation, Mr. Mellnick, an avid athlete who often serves as a coach for youth soccer and umpires baseball games in and around Queens, was feeling fit and in good form running to coach at sports events. He had been experiencing headaches he described as “not severe… and they’d go away when I took two ibuprofen.” But, at Deborah’s insistence, he did go to VA’s Brooklyn Campus. Much to the couple’s shock, Mr. Mellnick was informed he had metastatic brain cancer and advised to have an operation to remove a large tumor deep in the left ventricle (normally a fluid filled space) of his brain as quickly as possible. The tumor was trapping some of the fluid in the ventricle and represented an immediate risk to his life. Taking that in stride, the couple, who have been together for 7 ½ years and planning to marry on June 14, the anniversary of the day they met, now decided to wed immediately, on November 20th – with the help and cheering on of the Harbor.

Facebook PictureMr. Mellnick was taken to the operating room on the morning of Thursday, November 21 for a four hour stereotactic procedure, during which the tumor was successfully removed through a small incision just above and behind his left ear. Chief of Neurosurgery Dr. Uzma Samadani said, “Mr. Mellnick approached his surgery with tremendous courage and humor. He understood that there were risks involved and put his faith in our team. There was only one minor glitch - he had told us that the first person he wanted to see afterwards was his new wife, but his surgery went so smoothly that anesthesiologist Dr. Jan Purgess was able to wake him up very quickly and gently afterwards, while still in the operating room. So unfortunately, he first ended up seeing Chief Neurosurgical Resident Dr. Russell Strom and Assisting Surgeon Dr. Andrew Brunswick, along with Dr. Purgess. “ Luckily, his sense of humor was still intact and he was still telling us jokes when he returned to the ICU to be reunited with his new wife.”

Because the tumor, which turned out to be a metastasis from his lung, was inside a ventricle which is a fluid-filled space in the brain, a ventriculostomy drainage catheter had to be left behind at the time of surgery, to ensure that fluid does not accumulate in the space from which the tumor was removed. “Unfortunately, his honeymoon will have to wait a few days until we can either wean the catheter, or permanently implant it as a shunt,” said Dr. Samadani. “But, we are optimistic that he will have a chance to honeymoon soon.”

Following about a week's recovery in the hospital, Mr. Mellnick will need chemo and radiation therapy.

An hour after surgery, Mr. Mellnick was alert and appeared happy to greet his wife , family and physicians . Now a married man, he was free to pursue the wishes he expressed just before his wedding. “ I want to get married and enjoy more time being married.”