Caroline Caprio on defying a death sentence, becoming a walking miracle

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Sometimes when you brace for the worst, that’s what you end up getting.

That’s what happened for Caroline Caprio of Warwick back in July 2013 when an MRI revealed a golf ball-sized brain tumor on the left side of her head. The diagnosis might not have even been made if not for Caprio overruling her previous doctors and making sure that she had an MRI.

She says that symptoms prompting her to get the MRI included excruciating and persistent headaches, like a toothache, falling asleep at random times, losing her balance often and the eyesight in her left eye getting worse, especially at night. She brought these symptoms up to her doctors but was told that she should take Tylenol for the headaches and that she had nighttime blindness. One day, she decided enough was enough and went to make sure her symptoms didn’t mean anything serious.

“I went into my doctor’s office and said, ‘I know I’m dying. I want an MRI now.’”

After the MRI revealed a tumor, her previous doctor said he was ‘devastated.’ Caprio decided to leave him and immediately contacted a brain surgeon she had heard about from family and friends, Dr. Prakash Sampath.

The next week was a whirlwind. The very next morning, after texting a picture of the MRI to Sampath, Caprio went to his office in Providence and got a CT scan done. The neurosurgeon knew it wasn’t cancerous and diagnosed her with a meningioma tumor, the most common type of non-cancerous brain tumor. These grow slowly over time, but because she had been told not to worry about it by previous doctors, according to Caprio, she almost didn’t catch it in time.

“I need to do surgery within 48 hours because you’re 48 hours away from death,” Dr. Sampath told her after getting the CT scan done.

“The room started spinning,” Caprio said. “I was told by a lawyer to get my affairs in order.”

She got all of her pre-tests done overnight and reported the next day, July 24, 2013, to Roger Williams Medical Center.

“I had my grandchildren’s picture in one hand and my mother’s in the other,” Caprio said. Her daughter had twin boys just a few years earlier and Caprio’s own mother had passed on a few years earlier as well. She said she knew how badly the surgery could go and was just hoping for the best.

The surgery went as smooth as could be, however, and Caprio woke up to the sight of her family in the recovery room the next day. She credits Dr. Sampath with the success of the tumor removal.

“Dr. Sampath saved my life. He is my hero,” she said. “I firmly believe that if another doctor would have operated on me, I don’t think I would have had those results. There would have been something wrong with me.”

As a neurological surgeon, Sampath treats all types of trauma to the brain, spinal cord and other parts of the nervous system. Based out of Providence, he is affiliated with Roger Williams Medical Center, Rhode Island Hospital, Saint Anne’s and Memorial Hospital of Rhode Island. Having practiced neurosurgery in Rhode Island for many years, Sampath has come to understand the widespread problem of brain tumors and cancer in general.

“It’s important that we realize we have a high cancer rate in general,” Sampath said. “And per 100,000 Rhode Island has the second highest amount of tumors in the country.”

He said there could be a number of reasons for this, including genetics, Rhode Island being a small community where everyone is two or three people removed and a small migratory population to our state.

Deadly tumors, whether cancerous or not, are an extremely serious medical condition that needs to be combated, which is why Dr. Sampath goes outside the operating room – although he’s also in there very often – to help solve this statewide problem.

He founded the Rhode Island Brain and Spine Tumor Foundation in February 2008. The foundation arose from concerns that Rhode Island patients and their families received too little support as they faced the high stakes decisions that follow the first suspicion of a brain or spine tumor.

“We set up the foundation not so much for the medical treatment of patients but for the aspects of care that don’t get as much press,” Sampath said. “The support groups for the patients, the simple things like getting patients back and forth to chemotherapy and setting up ways for people to learn more about these tumors.”

The foundation has helped Caroline Caprio immensely in her recovery from her meningioma removal, even prompting her to become a member of its board.

“We take for granted so many simple things we do in a day, so when something like this happens you’re helpless for a couple of weeks,” Caprio said. “If you need a ride to the doctor we’re going to call you an Uber. If you don’t have enough food in your house because you can’t get out I’m going to have it sent.”

The foundation helps out with just about anything a patient and their families need including, perhaps most importantly, the medical bills that continue to amount even after the cost of the surgery itself is incurred.

“I had four MRIs, two ultrasounds, three EEGs. The bills I got were insane. Some people don’t have good insurance, so we help pay for co-pays,” Caprio said.

The foundation also provides free monthly support groups, attended by many survivors, that Caprio says are key in helping with the “emotional recovery” of a surgery like this. The foundation also helps fund research. To raise money to pay for all their work, fundraisers are held annually.

The upcoming fundraiser is their 7th annual “Faces of Hope” Soiree at the Roger Williams Park Casino. Held on Oct. 26 from 5:30-9:30 p.m., the night will include a dinner and drinks, a “little bit of entertainment” and speeches from board members, survivors and others affected by tumors.

“This is where we come together as a community and share our stories with each other,” Caprio said.

Caroline Caprio believes she is extremely blessed to have been in the care of Dr. Prakash Sampath throughout this process and to have been exposed to the Rhode Island Brain and Tumor Foundation. After hearing her story, who can blame her?

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