News

CRPD officer eager to return to work after large tumor removed

Cedar Rapids police Officer Shannon Sampson pulls a dummy below a bar during an occupational therapy appointment at UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s Therapy Plus on Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019. Sampson was diagnosed earlier this year with a tumor near her spine and underwent major surgery. Occupational therapy is addressing some of the physical demands of her job, such as the ability to restrain a suspect or to pull an adult, both of which require balance while close to the ground. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Cedar Rapids police Officer Shannon Sampson pulls a dummy below a bar during an occupational therapy appointment at UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s Therapy Plus on Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019. Sampson was diagnosed earlier this year with a tumor near her spine and underwent major surgery. Occupational therapy is addressing some of the physical demands of her job, such as the ability to restrain a suspect or to pull an adult, both of which require balance while close to the ground. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
/

CEDAR RAPIDS — It began when her toes felt numb. Then it got worse.

For the last eight months, Cedar Rapids police Officer Shannon Sampson has been recovering from major surgery to remove a potato-sized tumor that was nestled against her spinal cord and growing into her chest cavity. She was on sick leave for about four months before returning in June to “light duty” at the department.

“This whole time I’ve been determined to go back to work,” said Sampson, a crime prevention and community outreach officer. “I haven’t worn the uniform since Feb. 11, and the day I get to put it back on will be a big day.”

It was the beginning of a new year — 2018 — when she noticed the toes on her right foot were numb.

“I just thought my foot was asleep,” Sampson said, “but the feeling didn’t go away.”

A few months later, that numbness had spread to the toes on her left foot and then began traveling up her feet and into her legs.

Over the course of the next year, Sampson would see a variety of doctors, starting with her family practitioner and moving down the line to specialists and physical therapists, all of whom ran a battery of tests and came up empty.

Eventually, Sampson was referred to see a neurosurgeon at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. By that time, she said, the numbness had spread from her toes up her right leg and into her lower back and stomach, as well as partially up her left leg. She was experiencing significant weakness, too, she said.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

It was last Valentine’s Day when Sampson went to Iowa City for yet another MRI. But this time, she got an answer about what was wrong.

Leading up to the MRI, Sampson said doctors had scanned only small areas of her body — her right knee, her lower back, her brain and her neck. Each had missed the massive tumor growing near her spine between the shoulder blades.

“Finally I had an answer,” she said. “I don’t want to say it was a relief since it was a tumor and the situation was serious, but at least we now knew what it was.”

The MRI found a schwannoma — a benign tumor that had grown against her spine, compressing the nerves, and into her chest cavity next to her aorta.

Six days later, Sampson was brought to the operating room where a team of neuro- and cardiothoracic surgeons got to work removing the tumor and repairing the damage it had caused.

“(Shannon) presented with a very complicated problem,” said Dr. Matthew Howard, chairman of UI’s Department of Neurosurgery.

He was one of a team of doctors that worked to remove the tumor and repair her spine.

“Because the tumor was right up against her spinal cord, it was a very high-risk procedure,” Howard said. “This was completely different from a standard spine operation that many people are familiar with, such as a herniated disc.”

The surgery took about five hours, Sampson said, during which a neurosurgery team removed the tumor from her spinal area, removed a handful of vertebrae and implanted rods and screws. Next, a cardiothoracic team removed the part of the tumor that had grown into Sampson’s chest.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

“They made incisions along my side, and they had to collapse a lung to reach the tumor,” she said. “So it was a pretty intense surgery.”

Since the tumor was not cancerous, Sampson did not have to undergo chemotherapy or radiation. Instead, she had weeks of physical and occupational therapy to get her up and moving and to rebuild strength and functionality.

“Shannon was determined,” said Kevin Komenda, a physical therapist at UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s Hospital. “She constantly wanted to push harder and go farther. If we were supposed to walk 100 feet, she wanted to walk 120.”

When Sampson started physical therapy, Komenda said, she was experiencing extensive weakness in her legs and core, as well as significant pain.

“This was a huge surgery and obviously pain is going to be a part of the recovery,” Komenda said. “But Shannon did not let that stand in her way. She just kept fighting and kept working, and her recovery was fantastic.”

Much of the work they did focused on strength and muscle building and regaining function, Komenda said.

Sampson finished her last outpatient occupational therapy appointment last week. All she wants to do now is get back into her uniform.

“It could be a few weeks, it could be a month,” she said. “I don’t want to do anything too soon. I want to feel completely physically ready, so I don’t want to rush. But my goal is to be back at work, in uniform, full time by the end of the year.”

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

For now, Sampson said she feels grateful the tumor was found before she lost the ability to walk, grateful for the surgeons who were able to remove it and grateful to the physical therapist who helped get her back on her feet.

“This has been quite an experience,” she said. “One that I would not wish on my worst enemy. And, I’ll keep saying it — I am so grateful this tumor chose me instead of one of my friends or family. And I guess my message for everyone would be that we know our bodies best. If something feels wrong, don’t stop — keep fighting, keep advocating — until you find an answer.”

Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.