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Friends trying to help Sandy mother pay for brain surgery

Pennen Brelin hopes to have pineal gland tumor removed in February

Community members are banding together to help a Sandy mother reclaim her health.

On her 40th birthday four years ago, Pennen Brelin woke up with a severe headache while on vacation with her husband, Conway, and three children. The headache only got worse. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Conway and Pennen Brelin celebrate their oldest sons graduation from Sandy High School last year with their family.

Several months and many tests later, doctors said Brelin had low spinal fluid pressure. Doctors said she had a spinal-fluid leak and her pain was being caused by an insufficient amount of fluid to suspend in her brain inside her skull. Eight months later she went to California for surgery to repair the leak, thinking she would be able to restart her active life.

“When she woke up, the pain was still there," Conway Brelin said. "She just knew it was different in some way.”

Over the next year her symptoms progressed to the point where she could no longer function. She was barely sleeping, throwing up daily and dealing with a pressure in her head that was unlike any headache she ever experienced before.

“She’s still there, she’s still herself … but we’re now to the point where we rarely have a good day,” said Conway Brelin.

After nearly four years of no answers and trying every medication under the sun to no avail, the family changed insurance companies, a first step to being allowed to consult with physicians outside its network. With a new insurance provider, the Brelins went in search of a second opinion.

A test at Oregon Health & Science University revealed that Brelin has a pineal gland tumor deep in the center of her brain. The pineal gland is a small endocrine gland that produces melatonin and is responsible for regulating mood and sleep cycles.

While there is not a lot known about that type of tumor, Pennen Brelin and her family were able to find a surgeon in Los Angeles who pioneered the least-invasive surgical procedure to remove it.

“He said she’ll get her life back,” said Conway Brelin, becoming emotional at the prospect of seeing his wife happy again.

The drawback? Despite having two insurance policies through their work, the family still is facing an out-of-pocket expense for the surgery of $38,800.

Conway Brelin has been doing what he can to find the funds within the family, but understands he will have to accept outside help for his wife to get the surgery.

Jennifer Lei, who has known the Brelin family for almost six years, helped them set up an account on gofundme.com and an account at Clackamas County Bank in Sandy.CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Conway and Pennen Brelin hope to return to their old lives after Pennen receives surgery to remove a brain tumor.

“Pennen is someone who always puts others first,” Lei said. “One thing that keeps coming up in our conversations is how she feels guilty that she has not been able to give her son Caiou (age 10) the kind of childhood that her other two children enjoyed.”

So far, the gofundme account has raised $8,820. The family is trying to gather as much as they can before Jan. 24.

Pennen has surgery scheduled in California on Wednesday, Feb. 10. The out-of-pocket expense needs to be paid 30 days before the surgery, but Conway Brelin managed to get a two-week extension.

The family is leery to reschedule the surgery because if the recovery time is extended she wouldn’t be able to return to work on time and would lose her health benefits, said Conway Brelin, doubling the cost for the surgery.

Lei said she is helping lead the community effort because “this could happen to any of us.”

“If Pennen does not have this surgery, her symptoms will continue to worsen and no medicine they have found will ease her symptoms," Lei said. “I think everyone can relate to a woman who just wants to be able to be the best wife and mother she can be. She is not able to be her best anymore and this surgery will help her get the life she knew back.”

Conway Brelin said it's been hard for him to ask for money from the community, but his wife wants the surgery at any cost.

“It’s been so hard to put our name out there and ask for money like this,” he said. “It’s kind of humbling in a way. It also makes (us) feel amazing that they’re putting money out there because they love Penny.”

Donate to the cause

If you would like to donate to Pennen Brelin’s pineal gland tumor surgery, or learn more about her four-year-long battle, visit gofundme.com and type Pennen Brelin into the search bar.

Community members also can aid the family by visiting Clackamas County Bank, 38975 Proctor Blvd. in Sandy, and saying they would like to give to Pennen Brelin’s account.

Oregon Trail Academy, where Pennen's son attends school, will host a spaghetti feed fundraiser for her surgery at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 13. The school is located at 362250 S.E. Proctor Road in Boring.

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