It began as nothing more than a small knot in the middle of Randy Jeffreys’ forehead. No big deal, his family thought. Within three days the knot disappeared.
During Randy Jeffreys’ third visit to the Central Peninsula Hospital emergency room, an inquisitive Dr. James Zirul discovered the persistent knot’s cause; it was a Pott’s puffy tumor, a rare bone infection. The tumor grew and overtook most of the Nikiski resident’s facial features, said Randy’s wife, Lesa Jeffreys.
“I think we’re very fortunate that the doctor requested an MRI, because no one else knew what it was,” said daughter-in-law Kelly Jeffreys. “We say Pott’s puffy tumor and people are like, ‘What?’”
On Dec. 10, 2012, the same night of his third ER visit, Randy Jeffreys went under the knife for more than five hours.
Although the doctors at the hospital could not entirely remove the tumor, they effectively saved a life. Since the surgery, the Jeffreys family has fought an uphill battle. Following many negotiations and weekly surgeries, the University of Washington Medical Center agreed to admit Randy Jeffreys. Nikiski residents gathered two weeks ago to offer donations, and the local Lion’s Club is selling tickets for an upcoming raffle.
Randy is disabled without disability benefits, Kelly Jeffreys said. The 57-year-old former cannery employee and logger doesn’t have health insurance. The hospital is footing his medical bills, for now.
Physicians believe Randy Jeffreys lived with the tumor for decades. In 1977, he suffered a blow to the head when a log rolled over his body. The logging accident resulted in chronic sinus infections. Both frontal sinusitis and frontal trauma are known causes of Pott’s puffy tumors.
The tumor can affect all ages, but mostly it is found among teenagers. Randy Jeffreys is currently the only case in Alaska, doctors told the family.
It is characterized by a bone infection, which generally spreads outward away from the brain. The infection can also spread inward, causing more severe health problems. That’s not to say Randy Jeffreys’s life was not and is not in danger. Lesa Jeffreys said Dr. Zirul commented that if he’d waited another hour to operate, Randy could have died.
For six weeks, nurses at the hospital have flooded Randy Jeffreys’ body with antibiotics. Three various medications are keeping the tumor at bay. The tumor would start growing again in as little as three minutes if the antibiotic regiment halted, Lesa Jeffreys said.
Doctors also scraped and cleaned the tumor once a week. The surgeries have left Randy Jeffreys with a nearly dime-sized hole in his forehead.
The Washington Medical Center recently changed its polices. It is limited to accepting Seattle residents, with the exception of life-threatening conditions. Because Randy Jeffreys underwent surgery and his life was no longer in danger, the Outside hospital could not operate on him unless the family paid up front. Lacking the funds, Kelly Jeffreys and Randy’s daughters, Misty Hemphill and Andrea Miller, organized a spaghetti feed and auction.
They planned the auction for Jan. 12; that night, a rainstorm inundated Southcentral Alaska. The auctioneer cautioned the Jeffreys family to temper their enthusiasm, Lesa Jeffreys said.
“It was pouring down rain. It was icy, just horrible,” she said. “And (the auctioneer) said, ‘I’ve been doing this for a long time at a lot of places, and you need to make a plan to raffle off the bigger items at another time. The weather is bad.’ No sooner did we give up hope that people started to line up.”
The Nikiski Senior Center filled to capacity; people waited in line for meals. The auction was supposed to last from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., but three hours passed that timeframe, residents still occupied the building.
The Jeffreyses felt overwhelmed by the generosity. Residents brought additional auction items, and the family decided to hold the larger items for a separate raffle. At the end of the night, more than $10,000 had been raised. Donors sank about $1,600 into a single, small coffee can.
The Central Peninsula’s hospital lacks the equipment and expertise to perform a surgical removal of the tumor. Two specialists in Seattle will perform that task. But the staff at CPH worked diligently to keep Randy Jeffreys in good health, he said.
Social services and doctors at the hospital worked to persuade the Washington Medical Center. And last Thursday morning, Lesa Jeffreys’ birthday, the family received good news. The medical center is waiving Randy Jeffreys’ non-residency.
Randy Jeffreys will continue a steady intake of antibiotics from his home until traveling to Seattle on Feb. 18. Staying at home is a risk, like playing Russian roulette, one doctor told Lesa Jeffreys. But the family’s options are limited. Also, if the tumor flares up again and his condition is life-threatening, he will be medevaced to Seattle immediately.
The Jeffreyses are unsure of the details of the Seattle operation. Randy Jeffreys epidermal lining — the bone between the skull and the skin — has been scraped down to a thin layer. The lining will somehow be replaced, thereby removing the tumor.
The family doesn’t have all the funds for the operation, yet. The raffle started on Monday. The prizes include a contractor’s package that consists of 16 hours of licensed and insured labor; a hand-crafted, twin size log bed made by Mark Fucci; and a family photo shoot from Auto Focus Prime Photography. Tickets are available for $20, or six for $100. Call 394-8038 to buy a ticket.
Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.