Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
In March 2016, Leah Blackford was playing cards with her family and husband, Chris, when suddenly she threw the deck across the table, went stiff as a board and stopped moving. At first Chris thought she was joking around. When she didn’t respond, however, he began to panic. Thirty seconds later, Leah’s eyes popped open, though they were unfocused, and she seemed disoriented.
“I don’t remember any of it, but apparently for 30 minutes I was asking a bunch of strange and repetitive questions,” Leah says.
Chris insisted they go to the hospital.
The ER team wasn’t initially concerned, chalking the bizarre experience up to the body’s need to “reset” itself from time to time, the way a boxer does after getting knocked out. A CAT scan, however, revealed something more ominous.
“When the doctor walked in…” Chris whispered, his voice cracking with emotion, “You never want to see the look that doctor had on his face. I knew something was very wrong.”
More tests were done to confirm the diagnosis, but ultimately, an MRI revealed that Leah had not one, but three tumors on her brain — each the size of a large marble. The pressure the tumors were putting on the outside of her brain was what caused the memory loss and seizure.
“That’s when your heart drops,” Chris says.
The good news: the tumors were not cancerous. The specialist offered the couple three possible options: do nothing and see what happens, remove the tumors through surgery, or take medications to slow tumor growth. Without hesitation, Leah asked when she could schedule surgery.
The diagnosis provided answers to nagging questions that Leah had prior to the seizure, such as why she was struggling to understand the tasks she was to perform at the new job she’d started three weeks earlier.
“It didn’t make sense that I was having such a hard time because I’ve been in accounts payable my whole life,” Leah says. “I knew it wasn’t normal to be having trouble learning my job.”
Within four weeks of her seizure, Leah was on the operating table. Chris paced the hospital floors, waiting anxiously as the surgery, scheduled for three hours, took a whopping six and a half. The doctor said that in order to reach one of the tumors, he had to remove a small piece of Leah’s brain.
When Leah woke up an hour later, she was disappointed to find she didn’t have a bald head.
“I was kind of looking forward to having part of my head shaved,” says Leah with a chuckle. “You can’t even see my scar!”
What you can see, however, is the tremendous support she’s gotten from her husband, mother, coworkers and friends.
“I consider myself tremendously lucky just to be married to this great guy, who has been with me every step of the way,” Leah says. “We’ve been together a long time and have learned that if you can’t change something or fix it, you learn to live with it. We’ve always taken life and rolled with it together.”
Named the Luckiest Hoosier Alive winner this month, Leah received a prize package to Hoosier Park Casino, which includes dinner for two at Homestretch Steakhouse as well as $200 in comps for gambling.
“We are really looking forward to a night out, I can’t tell Hoosier Park ‘thank you’ enough,” added Leah.
Not that Leah needs to roll the dice or play the slots because she’s already defied the odds. She was supposed to be in the hospital for seven days — she was out in four. She was scheduled to be off work for six to nine weeks, but she was back in less than three. She beat not one brain tumor but three.
“I’m just grateful for how it all turned out,” Chris says. “The brain tumor was in the best place it could be. It was accessible. We were blessed.”
Six months post-surgery, Leah was given the all-clear, enabling her to suspend medication and resume driving, flying and even parasailing. When she and Chris went to San Diego, she eagerly signed up for the exhilarating activity.
“I was like, ‘I’m doing this!’” says Leah, who admits that she now has a new appreciation for life. “I’m so thankful for everything I have.”
Leah was listening to WZPL 99.5 FM radio and heard the commercial with Towne Post Publisher Tom Britt asking for people to submit their story for the “Luckiest Hoosier Alive Contest.” She heard the commercial and said, “I’m going to do that!”
A true winner, indeed.