New Aurora clinic offers hope for patients with rare brain malformation

AURORA, Colo. -- Kristie Richardson is recovering from brain surgery, after she was diagnosed with Chiari Malformation Type 1.  Chiari  is a defect of the brain or skull, that causes a crowding at the base of the skull and a variety or neurological symptoms.

For the mother of four from Aurora, her symptoms began earlier this year. “I was falling a lot. I had lost my hearing in my left ear. My eyes felt like they were pushing out of my head because I had so much pressure,” she said. Her short term memory was so bad that one day she couldn’t remember the way home from work.

After an unbearable headache, Kristie’s husband took her to the ER.  An MRI revealed the malformation.

The family had never even heard of Chiari. But, after some research they found a well-known neurosurgeon who was focusing on Chiari, and opening the Colorado Chiari Institute at the Medical Center of Aurora.

Dr. John Oro has years of experience treating Chiari patients, and  has performed about 800 surgeries on them.

“There's not a lot of awareness on Chiari, so unfortunately many patients are misdiagnosed, treated for anxiety, depression and panic attacks,” Dr. Oro said.

If surgery is necessary, Dr. Oro trims some of the bone at the base of the skull to make more room, and then patches it with a titanium plate.

There are about 300,000 people in the US with Chiari, but there are only a handful of specialized clinics in the country. The clinic just opened in July, and already patients are coming from other states.

“It will be huge for Colorado,” said Kristie, who was one of the first patients.

She had surgery 15 days ago, and is doing much better.  Now she wants to raise awareness about the disorder.

Kristie is also a school counselor who teaches coping skills.  After this experience, she hopes to improve the coping techniques that are offered.

If you would like to see more of her story, or help financially, check out this website.