Med Student Battles 6 Brain Surgeries While Studying to Become a Doctor

May 23, 2019 Updated: May 23, 2019

A medical student who has had six major brain surgeries since a life-changing diagnosis in 2011, has spoken up about her battle in studying to become a doctor while living as a patient.

Claudia Martinez, who is now in her fourth year at UTHealth McGovern Medical School, had always aspired to be a doctor, but was diagnozed with Chiari Malformation while she was a college student at the University of Houston.

As an undergraduate, Martinez began to suffer from blackouts and headaches, reported ABC7. In her first year as a medical student, she was eventually diagnozed with the debilitating condition and was admitted to a surgery a week later.

Martinez told ABC7 she needed to have brain surgery almost immediately after her diagnosis, or she could have been left paralyzed.

“When I got my diagnosis, I was sent to a neurosurgeon. He told me that I needed brain surgery as soon as possible,” she recalled.

“If not, I was going to be paralyzed from the neck down. And so within a week I was undergoing my first brain surgery.”

The condition, which causes brain tissue to extend into the spinal canal, can cause paralysis. Other symptoms of the condition can include poor hand coordination, numbness and tingling of hands and feet, and curvature of the spine, among others.

Despite her setbacks, Martinez graduated from the University of Houston and persevered with her dream of becoming a doctor at UTHealth McGovern Medical School.

Eight years on from her initial diagnosis, the student has had six major brain surgeries, as well as “multiple shunt surgeries, multiple feeding tube and port surgeries, as well as countless procedures and hospitalizations,” she said, writing in TMC News.

“I thought I’d have one surgery. I knew my life would be a little different, but I thought I would have this surgery and go on to med school,” Martinez told ABC7.

“And that would kind of be the end of my story. But it’s been quite the opposite of that.”

In February 2017, she had a frightening “experimental” surgery which she said changed her life forever.

Martinez had suffered a stroke during the surgery, which left her temporarily paralyzed from the neck down.

“I couldn’t sit up on my own, move to turn in bed, walk, bathe or dress myself. All I could do was lie in bed,” she said.

Martinez told ABC7, “I had to relearn how to do absolutely everything. My mom had to shower me, dress me.”

“My dream of becoming a doctor felt like it was shattering before me,” she said.

The medical student persevered through months of therapy at TIRR Memorial Hermann Rehab Hospital, where she eventually learned how to walk again using an Exoskeleton.

Since her diagnosis, the student has also raised $55,000 to fund research for Chiari Malformation, by organizing the annual “Conquer Chiari” Walk in Houston.

During hospital stays, she continued to strive for her dream and studied instead of taking naps and watching movies, she said.

“God has always preserved my intelligence during my many brain surgeries, and I wasn’t going to waste that precious gift.

“My brain, at times my greatest challenge, was my biggest ally in continuing my path to become a doctor,” Martinez said in an article for TMC News.

Now in her final year of studies at UTHealth McGovern Medical School, Martinez is set to graduate next year.