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Beaverton's Kirk Hansen ready to sing again

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Hansen survives a brain tumor, returns to the ISing Choir


TIMES PHOTO: MILES VANCE - Beaverton's Kirk Hansen (left) stands arm in arm and smiles with his neurosurgeon, Dr. Oisin ONeill, during a Friday visit back at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center where Hansen had his brain tumor removed in September.

The signs had been there for a while, but Beaverton’s Kirk Hansen didn’t want to see them.

There was the left arm that he couldn’t quite lift over his head, but that was nothing. That was probably just a pinched nerve.

Then there was the left foot that seemed to drag, just a little. But that wasn’t anything either. It was hardly noticeable.

There were some headaches, too, but everybody gets headaches, right?

But then, back in mid-September, Hansen — a local realtor and a member of the ISing choir — was driving back to Beaverton after watching a Seattle Mariners game and this was no ordinary drive.

Hansen began to suffer from double vision. He recalls having to choose which of the two oncoming cars he was seeing was the real one during his dark, dangerous drive back to Oregon.

Hansen, 45, didn’t realize it at the time, but his double vision — along with those other earlier symptoms — were signs of what doctors later discovered to be a lemon-sized tumor in his brain, lodged just behind his eyes.

That discovery set in motion a six-month stint that included three surgeries and a lengthy stay in the Intensive Care Unit at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center, a losing battle with his insurance company, a financial rescue by Providence Health & Services, and now, a return to performing with the ISing Choir.

The choir, with Hansen along to sing a couple solos, will perform “Divine Jazz,” a series of four concerts in May. The first three of those — at 7:30 p.m. May 6, 7:30 p.m. May 7 and 3 p.m. May 8 — will be held at Bethel Congregational United Church of Christ, 5150 S.W. Watson Ave. in Beaverton; the fourth concert in the series will be held at 7:30 p.m. May 14 at St. Peter Catholic Church, 5905 S.E. 87th Ave. in Southeast Portland. For more on the music and performers involved in the concert series, please see next week’s edition of the Beaverton Valley Times.

ISING CHOIR

The choir performs “Divine Jazz” May 6-8 at Bethel United Church in Beaverton, and on May 14 at St. Peter Catholic Church in Portland.

Deny, deny, deny

Following Hansen’s harrowing drive back from that Mariners game, friends from the ISing Choir encouraged him to see an eye doctor, which he reluctantly agreed to do. Even then, however, Hansen wasn’t exactly enthusiastic about medical treatment.

“I was trying to get (the ophthalmologist’s office) to just give me an eye patch because I could see just fine as long as I covered one eye,” Hansen recalled. And they said ‘No. We don’t have any eye patches. Are you coming in at 11 or 1?’ I said ‘I guess I’m coming in at 11.’”

In the exam that followed, Hansen’s ophthalmologist told him that he had swelling behind both of his optic nerves. Still, Hansen didn’t realize the serious nature of his condition.

Hansen said that he and partner Dana McCabe “looked at each other and said ‘Well, at least it’s not a tumor.’ And (the ophthalmologist) said nothing — he just stared at us and we thought, ‘Oh crap. It’s a tumor.’”

Hansen’s eye doctor scheduled an MRI for him four days later, and it revealed a brain tumor the size of lemon sitting right behind his eyes at the front of his skull. He went to the emergency room immediately following that MRI on Sept. 17, and then into surgery — a seven-hour marathon — the next morning.

The surgeriesSUBMITTED PHOTO - Scans of Kirk Hansen's brain found a lemon-sized tumor behind his eyes. The tumor was removed in September.

Hansen’s surgery wasn’t just lengthy, it was big, it was invasive, it was dangerous and it was necessary. His tumor — a benign bifrontal tumor known as a meningioma — had likely grown slowly over a very long period of time, gradually displacing his brain until it finally put pressure on his optic nerves and affected his vision.

Dr. Oisin O'Neill, a neurosurgeon with The Oregon Clinic who performs his procedures at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center, explained the challenge of Hansen’s condition.

“The surgical degree of complexity to take that out was significant. It’s a big incision, you know, right across the top of the head,” O’Neill said. “It’s a big craniotomy. It’s a big surgery.”

The removal itself involved a delicate and detailed procedure.

“These tumors are extremely firm in general,” O’Neill said. “What you have to do surgically is you have to ‘debulk’ the inside (of the tumor) because you can’t reach around the outside because the brain is fragile, particularly when it’s been compressed like that, so you go into the inside and you core the (tumor out) from the inside and then you peel away the edges of the skin from the brain so it’s a complex surgery and it takes awhile.”

It was, fortunately for Hansen, a very successful surgery.

“The initial surgery went sensationally, and I was probably the luckiest guy in the room because I was out for the whole thing but my family was terrified,” Hansen said. “After a seven-hour surgery, I came out and was jovial and friendly and said ‘Yeah, I think we got it ... (but) we may have left my wedding ring in there.”

As successful as that initial surgery was, it was not without complications. While Hansen came through the surgery itself with flying colors, his recovery included a couple significant setbacks. Providence St. Vincent sent Hansen home five days later on Sept. 22, and he spent a couple happy days receiving well-wishers.

“It was wonderful. I felt a lot of outpouring of love,” Hansen said.

Soon after, however, Hansen began to experience his first post-op challenge.

I had “cerebral spinal fluid leaking out of my nose and I didn’t know if that was a bad thing or not so I called a nurse friend who’s also in the (ISing) choir, and she said ‘Yeah. You’re probably going to want to go get that checked out,’” Hansen said. “It turns out it’s not a good thing at all.”

That set the table for his second — and third — surgeries related to the tumor.

“One of the complications Kirk had was a spinal fluid leak,” O’Neill said, explaining that Hansen’s “huge” frontal sinuses likely played a part in that particular problem.

“He’s got big frontal sinuses so when you pack those post-op, which we do, they don’t leak generally, but he had a leak and had to come back and get it fixed. Then the fix didn’t work properly, so I had to go back and fix it again.”

Along with an infection that followed those surgeries, Hansen spent nearly a month in the ICU at St. Vincent.

The family

Needless to say, it was a rough stretch for Hansen, McCabe and Hansen’s two kids. McCabe, who met and dated Hansen in college, then got together with him again seven years ago, said the key to surviving that period was just putting one foot in front of the other each day.

“I’ve often said that you just do the next thing. You just do what’s next,” she said. “I had to make sure that (the kids) got where they needed to be every day, and he couldn’t drive for a long time.”

Each day, McCabe said, was just about taking care of what was most important as best she could.

“I called it the juggling theory,” she said. “I had all the balls in the air — there were three glass balls that had to stay in the air, and some of the balls can bounce — and that’s OK.”

The cost

As it turns out, spending a month in the ICU is an expensive proposition and one that Hansen’s insurance wasn’t up to. Once the bills started rolling into Hansen and McCabe’s household, most of their claims had been denied and they were on the hook for well over $300,000.

Hansen and McCabe, who parent Hansen’s two children half the time, had purchased insurance in 2015 and figured they would be covered when Hansen’s health problems arose.

“We purchased insurance in 2015, as much as anything just to avoid the tax consequences,” Hansen said. “We thought of ourselves as very healthy people and (thought) ‘What a hassle to have to buy insurance,’ but we’d done it.

“When the rubber hit the road and we had to use that insurance, we found out it wasn’t very good insurance at all. It only paid a tiny fraction of our medical bills. I have a stack of rejection letters ... from the insurance company saying ‘We won’t pay that. We won’t pay that. We won’t pay that. We won’t pay that.’ So they paid a small fraction of my total medical bills and I was stuck with the rest of it.”

Faced with bills of well over $300,000, Hansen and McCabe considered their few options. They knew they couldn’t pay it all back during their lifetimes, they considered medical bankruptcy, and eventually, they filled out paperwork requesting assistance from Providence Health & Services.

“I wondered if I’d even get back what I’d paid in premiums,” Hansen said of his insurance. “That was not the right insurance plan. If there’s anything I could share from this, it’s get good insurance even if it’s expensive.”

That last piece — working with Providence Health & Services — proved to be Hansen and McCabe’s financial salvation. Within the last month or so, the couple learned that Providence Health & Services would cover most of the portion of Hansen’s bill related directly to Providence St. Vincent and his surgery.

“We’d been considering medical bankruptcy and all kinds of things to pay that bill,” McCabe said. “They are covering most of it, the hospital part of the bill. The clinics and specific doctors and anesthesiology and all the specific departments, we’re dealing directly with them, but the rest of the bills — they’re covering it.”

McCabe estimated Providence Health & Services’ assistance at approximately $300,000, leaving her and Hansen with about $40,000 left to pay. That’s still a big number, to be sure, but one they plan to handle.

“Not to mention that I’m still alive to help pay it back,” Hansen said.”I’m alive. The rest is just details.”