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Providing Personalized Care in Spanish to Patients With Brain and Spine Tumors


After receiving a stage 4 brain cancer diagnosis, a young mother traveled from Mexico to Chicago for treatment.

Vanessa Padelford-Olivares was making a grocery list in her Mexico City home when suddenly she could no longer write. The 45-year-old wife and mother of three was also experiencing headaches and memory loss, so she went to the doctor. Scans and a biopsy revealed Padelford-Olivares had stage 4 brain cancer that could not be removed.

“We were completely shocked,” said her husband, Homero Pedrero. “We were one day away from moving into a new house, and this diagnosis was the last thing we expected. But we had renewed hope when the doctor told us, ‘You need to go to Northwestern Medicine.’”

Padelford-Olivares traveled from Mexico City to Chicago, where she was treated at the newly established Northwestern Medicine Hispanic Brain and Spine Tumor Program. Led by neurosurgeon and Mexico City native Dr. Adam Sonabend, the program makes lifesaving neurological care more accessible for the Hispanic and Latino population by removing cultural, linguistic barriers to patients who speak Spanish.

“As a diverse city with two dominant air transportation hubs, and a vibrant Hispanic population, I was compelled to start a program in Chicago that accommodates the local and international Hispanic community and provides world-class care for patients with brain and spinal tumors,” said Sonabend. “Patients and families are able to pick up the phone to schedule an appointment in Spanish, understand their diagnosis and treatment options and undergo treatment and surgery including brain mapping for language in the operating room in Spanish. They also receive care by a clinician in Spanish at all follow-up appointments and while recovering at the hospital.”

A multidisciplinary team of oncologists and Spanish speaking nurses, medical assistants, clinical registration staff and phone operators are available to assist patients. The program also provides one-on-one support with a care team member who assists in travel plans, airfare, hotel accommodations and connecting the patient and family with places of worship, if desired.

“From diagnosis to treatment, our goal is to provide personalized care in Spanish to our patients and their family, but it also goes beyond language,” said Sonabend. “It’s really about being culturally sensitive; people from different cultures may have specific needs for communicating with their physicians. We want to adapt our team to best accommodate these needs.”

Padelford-Olivares underwent months of chemotherapy and tumor-treating electrical field treatment, coordinated by Dr. Roger Stupp, a world-renowned neurooncologist and medical director of the Lou and Jean Malnati Brain Tumor Institute at Northwestern Medicine, in collaboration with her doctors in Mexico. Then, Sonabed was able to safely remove an orange-sized tumor from her brain. A combination of chemotherapy and radiation completed her treatment.

“I feel very grateful to be treated at Northwestern Medicine,” said Padelford-Olivares. “I’m excited to return home and be with my three children again, but Chicago will always have a special place in my heart. I now consider it my second home.”

For more information, visit nm.org/tumorcerebral or call 312-926-3576.

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