In 2008, Ashley Brignac was married and expecting her first child. An unfortunate miscarriage brought about pain and an unusual occurrence. She continued to produce milk for three years. Her sister, Terra Boudreaux, a CT/X-ray technician at Dautrieve Hospital found this highly unusual and begged her sister to allow her to give her an MRI.
Finally, on one Good Friday, Brignac agreed. Unable to shake the feeling something was horribly wrong, the MRI scan confirmed Boudreaux's feelings.
“It was horrible,” Boudreaux began. “The tumor was bigger than we ever could have imagined. It created a mid-line shift and completely smashed both of her optic nerves.”
Brignac,30, was diagnosed with craniophrayngioma, a rare benign brain tumor that most often occurs in young children.
“It can grow very large over a period of time and cause a lot of problems neurologically with the pituitary gland as well as the optic nerve apparatus,” explained Dr. William Brennan, a neurosurgeon for Regional Medical Center of Acadiana.
According to Boudreaux, the tumor took ten to possibly 15 years to become as big as it was. Brignac had emergency surgery, which removed 90% of the tumor. Brignac slept for three days following surgery, as her sister washed matted blood from her surgery scar and hair. A few days later, Brignac suffered a stroke. In the two years that followed, Brignac had another surgery, developed diabetes insipidus, gained over 100 pounds on her small 5'1 stature due to steroids, has trouble walking and developed scars from multiple staff infections.
In 2013, Brignac received gamma knife radiation to kill the last 10 percent of the tumor, but the procedure was unsuccessful. A recent diagnosis of hydrocephalus or fluid on the brain, according to her medical records, caused problems seeing, speaking, and comprehending.
Dr. Brennan, speaking in general terms said, “The pituitary gland controls all of the hormones inside your body, so it's going to produce a low quality of all of these hormones. It can lead to growth hormone insufficiencies, adrenal insufficiencies, a multitude of medical problems.”
Brignac will travel to Shreveport in April for another MRI to see if she will require a shunt, a small passage that will allow movement of fluid through her brain. Boudreaux explained that the procedure is not considered an emergency, meaning the family will have to pay for 1/3 of the medical cost. This, Boudreaux said, will add to the already $60,000 mounting medical costs.
“She was denied disability. Her doctors won't release her to work because she has a tumor, but disability says she can work something non-physical like an office job,” said Boudreaux.
Unable to receive disability, Boudreaux sent 3,000 letters on behalf of her sister to politicians, councilman and mayors across Louisiana, trying to determine what options were available to them to receive some sort of aid.
“I faxed them, mailed them, if they came back I re-mailed them. I didn't want money, I just wanted to see if they knew someone who could help me or if they could point me in the right direction or if they knew something I didn't know.”
However, Boudreaux only received nine response. Three checks and six letters stating that all they could do was follow her case through disability once more. In the meantime, Boudreaux balances two lives. One of a loving wife and mother of three children and another of a sister who will stop at nothing to help her sister. Boudreaux stated in the interview that she honestly believed her sister's low-quality of life is just as much her fault as it is the tumor.
“I guess that maybe if I hadn't done it (the scan) then maybe she would have been able to live a normal life. Even though doctors said they weren't sure if she would have lasted more than a week or two, they really weren't sure. Being that I can't change places with her I would do anything for her,” Boudreaux tearfully said.
Brignac spoke up and said, “It's not her fault. She didn't put that thing in my head. She's my best friend.”
Without insurance, a medical card, disability or a job, Boudreaux said she will continue to fight to have her sister's case heard anywhere she can and in the meantime collects donations throughout the community. On Wednesday, 20 percent of all pick-up and dine-in sales from Johnny's Pizza House in St. Martinville went to the Ashley Brignac GoFundMe account.