When Shoshoni rocker Norm Moore heard his neurosurgeon was a rocker at heart, he knew which band he wanted played at his surgery: Pink Floyd. Maybe something from “Dark Side of the Moon,” it had a certain metaphorical ring to it.
Moore, 56, has been a musician his whole life. He is the drummer for the Lost Springs Band which plays “both” kinds of music – country-and-western and rock-n-roll. Early this year, though, the music was losing its luster. He felt stressed and down, attributing the depression to the pressures of caring for his aging parents. At a gig this winter, he sat down at his drums and realized he’d forgotten how to play.
In March, his step-daughter, Jessica Bedsaul, brought his grandkids to Shoshoni for a visit. His 7-year-old granddaughter looked him in the face and said, “Papa, you’re drooling.” His face was sagging to the floor, his step-daughter told him. They thought he was having a stroke.
Instead, a CT-scan showed a tumor the size of a tennis ball in his brain. A doctor told him he probably had a week to live. He was flown to Wyoming Medical Center on Sunday night and scheduled for surgery Monday morning. In the OR, staff hooked him up for a Stealth MRI – a system that creates a 3D image of the brain so the surgeon can more precisely pinpoint the outlines of the tumor. Moore and his daughter, Christine Kaczorowski, struck up a conversation with the computer technician.
You’re a lucky man, the technician told Moore. Everybody fights to be in the operating room with Dr. Penney because he likes to listen to music, especially the Rolling Stones.
“When I heard that,” Moore said, “I knew that everything was going to be fine.”
A radio DJ once dubbed Dr. Don Penney the “Rock-n-Roll Surgeon from Atlanta” after a photograph of him in his surgical cap made the national news wire. The cap is emblazoned with the iconic Rolling Stones logo, and when Mick Jagger saw it, he sent two second-row tickets to the Stones’ upcoming concert.
The reputation has followed Penney since he moved to Casper in November. His office walls are lined with photos from concerts he’s seen and photographed: Tina Turner, Rod Stewart, Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones (of course) and many others. He has more to hang, but they ran out of frames at Hobby Lobby, he said.
He keeps a “music box” on the surgical floor so he can wheel it into any operating room. Inside are his surgical tools, MP3 players and speakers. The box he had in Atlanta stood 5-feet tall, and he’s still trying to arrange to get it to Wyoming Medical Center.
“In the operating room, we have music playing all the time. There is a good, positive vibe,” Penney said. “I tell my patients that before I operate, I want positive thinking. I always say the same thing: ‘You are on the beach in the Caribbean. The sun is coming up, the waves are rolling in.’”
Penney’s team told him that Moore had requested Pink Floyd for his operation, scheduled early for March 24. When Moore rolled into the OR, “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” from Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” album was playing on the music box.
Remember when you were young,
You shone like the sun.
Shine on you crazy diamond.
Now there’s a look in your eyes,
Like black holes in the sky.
Shine on you crazy diamond.
“I’m playing Pink Floyd for you, so happy thoughts,” Penney instructed.
In a four-hour surgery with the Stealth imaging, Penney did a right frontotemporal craniotomy, temporarily removing a bone flap on the skull to access Moore’s brain. While the tumor was on the large end, compared to those Penney has treated, what he found exceptional was the size of the cyst that was with it – four to five times the size of the tumor itself.
“When I saw that cystic cavity, I had a bad feeling about what it was going to be,” Penney said.
Moore’s brain was very tense, swelling out of the opening in his skull. Penney punctured the cyst with a blunt probe needle and drained 25 CCs of fluid, about 5 teaspoons. The temporal lobe deflated like a balloon.
At first, Moore recovered slowly. Glioblastomas, like Moore’s tumor, are fast-moving brain cancers, doubling in size every six weeks. He struggled with sleeping because of the steroids and didn’t bounce back as quickly as Penney had hoped.
Talking to his patients, Dr. Penney is honest about their prognoses, but he likes to leave them with the glimmer of hope he believes is always there. “If you want numbers and statistics, I can give them to you. You can look on the internet and find all kinds of life expectancies,” he says. “But I truly believe in the man above, and I believe that we are put in this world at a certain time and taken out at a certain time.” He’s treated many patients who have outlived statistics.
If Moore had to have a cancer, God put it in the right place, Penney told him. Surgery in the right temporal lobe doesn’t run the risks of leaving patients paralyzed or unable to speak. Moore will need radiation and chemotherapy, and Penney will be as aggressive a surgeon as Moore and his family want him to be.
“As long as I have your permission, if this comes back, and there is a good chance that it might, I will go after it again and I will remove it. You and I are starting a long-term relationship,” Penney told him. “I want to see you drumming again.”
‘Papa, you’re drooling’
April 2 started good and ended better. Moore turned a corner and Dr. Penney informed him he’d get to go home with his daughter, Christine Kaczorowski, the next day. He wouldn’t even have to transfer to Elkhorn Valley Rehabilitation Hospital.
Then, a Shoshoni friend told him that the community, where Moore had previously been the town’s plumber for 20 years, was planning a benefit to help pay off a credit card he’d racked up with medical bills. Moore’s Fifth Floor room was filled with balloons and flowers, many with inscriptions to Papa Fish, as he is known to his 10 grandchildren (and as he will be known to his great-grandchild on the way.)
“They like to fish with Papa,” said Kaczorowski. “He lets them have the run of his vehicle when they go out to the lake. They are spoiled and they get what they want from Papa Fish.”
Moore shared his good news with nearly every nurse who came in his room.
“That makes me happy,” nurse Kaylee Ridings said. “You seem so much more up beat. It is hard to recover when you are down.”
“That’s all due to you. All of you nurses. Thank you so much. I cannot say enough nice things about you ladies, but I am trying.” If he had to spend one more night in the hospital, he was glad it was on the Fifth Floor with all the nurses who had taken such good care of him, he added.
Moore will see Dr. Penney often as they chart his treatment plan and monitor his progress. They’re already scheming to show each other their concert pictures and commiserating about upcoming shows they’d like to see.
“I am a rocker, and so was Dr. Penney, so it’s fun to talk about those things. He tells me that I am going to feel better than I did before. I told him I was going to hold him to that,” Moore said. “He is a wonderful human being.”
Moore looks forward to playing with the Lost Springs Band again, and he’s already designed his new rocker T-shirt. It says: “Papa, you’re drooling.”
Dr. Don Penney, M.D.
Education: Dr. Penney attended medical school at McMaster University in Montreal, Canada and completed a surgery internship at Montreal General Hospital, McGill University. He completed his residency and fellowship at the Montreal Neurological Institute, McGill University.
Experience: Trained in and practiced emergency medicine at the University of Illinois and Cook County Hospital in Chicago and joined the teaching staff as an Assistant Professor of Neurosurgery. He ran a solo practice in Atlanta, Ga., for 17 years where he was also a full professor of emergency medicine at Medical College of Georgia, Augusta. In 2006, he helped establish the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, Georgia Chapter where he directed the neuroscience program. He has authored numerous chapters in textbooks and scientific papers in addition to delivering multiple national lectures for the American College of Emergency Medicine.
Practice:Wyoming Brain & Spine Associates, (307) 266-2222
1020 E. Second St., Suite 200, Casper, WY 82601.