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ANSONIA, OH – Tony Liette of Ansonia is en route to the road of full recovery from an unforgettable experience that started more than two years ago.
“The first week in July 2019, I noticed my right arm was shaking; it did that for 30 seconds,” said the 61-year-old. Then on July 23 at 2:40 a.m., he came downstairs to let his dog out and give the animal a drink of water. He headed back upstairs and sat on the edge of the bed, and the next thing I knew, his right arm was shaking and he went into a full seizure.
“I was stable enough to take my left arm and get her (wife Tami’s) attention,” he recalled. “The only word I could get out was ‘stroke.'”
“I heard him say ‘Something isn’t right,'” Tami said. “I called 9-1-1 right away.”
Tony said after he came out of the seizure, he put one hand on her shoulder and literally walked down those stairs and unlocked the door for first responders, which included a police officer and three emergency personnel, including John Snyder and Troy Kammer.
“They started asking me questions as a stroke victim,” he said. “I told them I did not have a stroke. I had a seizure and told them about the incident earlier that month. Troy said they were taking me into the emergency room.”
At Wayne HealthCare, a cat scan was taken and, afterwards, the doctor asked Tami to go with him so he could show her what he found.
“The cat scan showed a mass on the brain,” she said. “How could that be? Her worked a full day the day before.”
Local medical officials told him they were sending him to Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton, where he was subsequently diagnosed with frontal lobe meningioma.
“They did a full MRI…one of the first of many,” he said.
The doctor then informed him it was a 41mm mass on the brain, plus he had some additional news. Tony also had a mass on his right kidney.
Tony admitted that he had been eating Advil the whole month of June and July for headaches he was experiencing, unbeknownst to his wife. He didn’t even tell her about the headaches.
Advil is a blood thinner and they would have to get it out of his system before they could do any surgery.
A team of neurologists came in and explained the procedure to Tony, who was told that if the tumor is cancerous, it would already be Stage 4.
Medical officials, it was noted, were more concerned about getting the brain tumor removed before doing anything with the kidney mass.
“The doctor painted us a pretty grim picture,” said the former Tami Epps. “The tumor was around his sensory nerve which affects speech and balance.
They said there is a good chance that by taking out the tumor, he wouldn’t be able to speak. I thought he’d come back home, so I came home to get his clothes and shoes. By the time I got back, he was already in the Clinical Neuroscience Institute of Miami Valley. That day was very scary.”
She went on, The neurosurgeon was a little nervous. Many doctors came in to see him.”
“While in the hospital, I had three or more seizures,” he said. “I had one the night before surgery that lasted 10 minutes.”
Tami said her husband would always know when a seizure was coming on.
Finally, surgery came on July 31.
“I thought they said Aug. 1,” Tony said.
They can’t do it that day, he told officials. They asked why.
“That is the 20th anniversary of my dad’s passing away,” said Tony, who also noted that he had a dream in the hospital that he himself had died.
“That put up a red flag,” said Tami. “They brought in a psychiatrist, a psychologist and social workers. They wanted to know everything about him. We didn’t know what to be prepared for because they (medical officials) didn’t even know.”
The first surgery, a left frontal lobe lesion and craniotomy, was supposed to take four to eight hours but it only took 3 1/2, according to Tami.
“They called us in and I thought something was wrong,” she said. “They said, ‘We’re finished and were able to get the whole tumor.’ All of us were just in shock. It’s just a miracle.”
The neurosurgeon said Tony probably had the brain tumor, which was described as the size of a golf ball, for eight to 10 years.
The mass on the kidney was cancerous and robotically removed on Oct. 2 2019, with no chemo or radiation needed.
“I had physical therapy and speech therapy and was back to work in six months, all due to God’s grace,” said Tony, who still has part of his kidney.
Has he had any more seizures? “In August last year while working at the computer, my right arm locked up,” he said. “My mind was telling me to move it. Doctors said it was probably a light seizure. I’m still on seizure medication, Zonisamide.”
“They sent us home with no medicine on the weekend, and our pharmacy was closed,” said Tami, who has worked for local dentist, Dr. Stentzel for 32 years. “So, I called Miami Valley and they couldn’t do anything because the hospital was busy as the deadly shooting in the Oregon District in Dayton took place that day.”
“I will always remember that day,” Tony said. “On top of that, I found out my niece had just left there (the Oregon District).”
The couple worked together in getting him through the weekend with his pain and without his medication.
“This is the sickest that I have ever been,” he said. “This by far is the scariest. To be honest about it, if it wasn’t for prayers and my faith in God, I probably wouldn’t be here. I feel sorry for the ones who don’t believe.”
When he learned that his brain tumor was benign from a woman at the hospital, he said he literally picked her up and swung her around.
“I was alone a lot of the time while at the hospital and I prayed a lot,” said Tami, who only came home twice during her husband’s hospitalization.
“Brianne and I collected inspirational things and Brianna and Matthew’s pastor prayed over Tony. I relied on my kids a lot.”
Son Brandon even made it back home for four days to be with his father.
“Here is where God is good,” Tony said. “I was not behind the wheel when I had my seizures. I was not at work; and, in May that year, I got in a plane by myself and traveled to Tacoma, Wash., to ride back home in Brandon’s car in his transfer to an Army base in Virginia.”
During the father-son time together in their travels, they saw such places as Yellowstone National Park, Wrigley Field and an American Pickers location.
“We were having a good time…not ever having a clue that when I would get back here in June that all hell would break loose,” he said.
Tony, who has worked at Fram in Greenville since July 1979, went back to work on Jan. 22, 2020, indicating he probably went back too soon, because he ended up having to have hernia surgery on July 30 that year.
His doctors throughout his ordeal included Dr. Anna Pollock, the neurosurgeon; Dr. Shamim Jilani, the oncologist; Erik Weise, who did the robotic surgery; Dr. Fadi Tayim, the clinical neuropsychologist; and Dr. Michelle DeGroat, who performed the hernia surgery.
The Liettes have been married for 37 years. In addition to their two children, they have a son-in-law, Matthew Morris, and a granddaughter, Hannah.
Tony said it was his granddaughter who got him through this time. He had a picture of her in his hospital room and wanted to take it to surgery but told he couldn’t. So, he gave it a kiss and left it behind.
Tony’s sense of humor was still in to play as he told during his hospitalization.
After waking up from the first surgery, Tony said he blurted out while coming out of the anesthetic “I am Andy Griffith (his hero). I nipped it in the bud. It’s party time in Dayton, Ohio.”
His son, Brandon, was quick to respond, “Dad is going to be fine.”
Tony, the son of Rebecca Liette of Greenville, and a sibling to two older brothers and two younger sisters, had been visiting each one of his doctors every six months and now has to go only once a year.
One of his doctors, after reading Tony’s brain study, was amazed he was in his office without a cane, a walker or a wheelchair or had slurred speech.
“His mouth literally dropped,” Tony remembers.
His only restriction as a result of his health issues is that he will never be able to drive a school bus again.
He was a substitute driver for Ansonia School from 2002-10. This was while he was working third shift at Fram. Now he’s been working first shift since 2010.
Tony wrote on a recent Facebook entry: “Two years ago today I faced the biggest fear in my life, the removal of a brain tumor. I just put it all in God’s hand and trusted He would get me through it, and I can honestly say He came through. God is good all the time. I am doing very well and I know if it wasn’t for my faith in Him I wouldn’t be here today. So I say unto you grasp a hold of Him and enjoy the ride, I know I am and will be even better when I see Him face-to-face some day.”
I am a Darke County native living in the Ansonia area with my son. I have been in journalism 50+ years and enjoy what I do.
Contact Darke County Now Media Correspondent Linda Moody @ email@example.com or 937-337-1955.