Former Hancock woman recounts life after brain surgery

  • Bonnie LaPointe, formerly of Hancock, had her life upended by a diagnosis of a non-cancerous brain tumor, the removal of which left her with a brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. Courtesy photos—

  • Bonnie LaPointe, formerly of Hancock, had her life upended by a diagnosis of a non-cancerous brain tumor, the removal of which left her with a brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. Courtesy photos—

  • Bonnie LaPointe, formerly of Hancock, had her life upended by a diagnosis of a non-cancerous brain tumor, the removal of which left her with a brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. Courtesy photos—

  • Bonnie LaPointe, formerly of Hancock, had her life upended by a diagnosis of a non-cancerous brain tumor, the removal of which left her with a brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. Courtesy photos—

  • Bonnie Lapointe Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Bonnie Lapointe Staff photo by Ben Conant—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 8/5/2019 6:04:40 PM

Illness, triumph, arrest, homelessness, a sense of balance – Bonnie LaPointe has seen extreme highs and lows in the three years since she was diagnosed out of the blue with a brain tumor.

LaPointe, a 20-year resident of Hancock, is now living in Vermont, a turn her life took after an arrest in 2018 following an incident on Half Moon Pond in Hancock, in which she drove onto the frozen pond and destroyed a Peterborough man’s fishing equipment with her car.

At that point, she said, she was two years out from brain surgery, living with a brain injury and untreated complex post-traumatic stress disorder. Her arrest was a turning point for her receiving better treatment, better resources and beginning a new chapter in her life, she says.

LaPointe didn’t have any idea anything was wrong with her in 2016. A long-term participant in a multi-generational heart monitoring study, LaPointe underwent an MRI as part of the study – which discovered a large tumor in her brain.

“It was a shock. It was only by the grace of God they were doing MRIs,” LaPointe said.

After that, things moved very fast, and LaPointe’s life changed completely.

Her MRI was on April 22, 2016. By May 31, she was in surgery to remove the tumor, located at the hole in the base of her skull. The tumor wasn’t cancerous but left to grow, it could essentially suffocate her brain stem, and had to be removed anyway, though LaPointe was able to avoid chemotherapy or radiation treatments.

The surgery still left her with lifelong consequences.

LaPointe lost control of some of her neck muscles and said she lost feeling in almost half of her skull. Because the surgery required drilling into her skull, she was left with a traumatic brain injury, and though it would not be diagnosed right away, complex post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, and lingering memory issues.

Growth through adversity

LaPointe credits the next three years as giving her the “privilege of perspective.”

She got to see the other side of almost every aspect of her life. LaPointe, a former volunteer EMT and firefighter, made her living as a direct support professional for children and adults with disabilities.

“Having supported people like myself, now I was a person with disabilities – managing the stigma, the labels, the lack of good health care services and compassionate providers,” LaPointe said.

From day one, she said, she didn’t want to let the impacts of the surgery limit her. Before the tumor was discovered, she had signed up for the Give Peace a Tri triathlon in Surry. Though the triathlon was to be held only 45 days after her surgery, she was determined to still participate.

“It was important to me not to give up on something I loved,” LaPointe said.

So, immediately after her surgery, she began the process of visualizing participating in the race, and in the end, she was able to run, bike and swim in the triathlon.

“It was the easiest one I’ve done in my life,” LaPointe said. “But I was bedridden for two weeks after. It was will and determination – believing I could and carrying it through.”

But the course of long-term recovery hasn’t all been smooth. While she still swims, bikes and runs as part of her recovery, she hasn’t participated in a competitive race since 2016. A year after her tumor removal, she developed a heart condition. Nutrients her body was diverting to her healing brain caused damage to her heart, and further competitions weren’t in the cards for her, she said.

She made an attempt to return to her previous job but said it was too difficult to provide care for both herself and still do her job. She eventually made the decision to retire fully.

After discovering her heart problem, LaPointe began to see Dr. Stephanie Clark, a doctor of chiropractic in Hancock who specializes in functional neurology and neuroscience. Clark began assisting her with treating her nutrient deficiency.

Brain injuries can come with a bevy of side-effects, Clark said, everything from the interpretation of math, reading and speech, recalling words, needing additional processing time, emotional imbalance, processing problems and problems communicating.

People can also have issues around executing functions which once would have been routine.

“How you communicate, are you being socially inappropriate, the social cues of when to do what – even getting dressed in the morning and knowing to put your underwear under your pants – all this can be affected,” Clark said.

In LaPointe’s case, her brain injury was compounded by her diagnosis of complex post-traumatic stress disorder, Clark said.

“When you add PTSD and a brain injury, the brain isn’t always able to figure out what’s real and not real, and it makes the resolution more challenging,” Clark said.

Clark said she treats brain injury patients in two main ways, depending on their injury – by “waking up” portions of the brain disrupted by the injury, or using a nutrition approach to ensure the body is receiving the correct balance of nutrients to function. With LaPointe, it was the latter, she said.

‘Divine intervention’

LaPointe had only been on her new nutritional treatment with Clark for about a month when she was arrested in February of 2018 after an incident on Half Moon Pond in Hancock, in which she drove her car over ice fishing equipment put out by a Peterborough man, his 20-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter, all who were fishing on the pond at the time. Police said, Lapointe then drove her car directly at the Peterborough man and later refused to stop for police for about a mile.

She eventually pled guilty to misdemeanor charges of reckless conduct and criminal mischief, paid $750 in restitution and received a suspended sentence. Charges of reckless conduct with a deadly weapon, disobeying an officer, disorderly conduct and interfering with hunting, trapping and fishing were dropped. She was also ordered to follow mental health treatment recommendations.

LaPointe said her arrest was “an example of divine intervention” in her life. She had been living with undiagnosed complex PTSD up until then. After her arrest, she was taken into protective custody and brought to Franklin Regional Hospital in Franklin. From there she was transferred to a facility in Vermont, where she had greater access to care.

“Getting clarity for what was happening with me was essential,” she said. “That change in direction from New Hampshire to Vermont was huge. It was a defining moment of divine intervention for me.”

This was when she was diagnosed with complex PTSD. The diagnosis led to a complete change from her previous medical treatment plan.

“Post brain surgery, the follow-up care was like swimming upstream, because of the misdiagnosis,” she said.

In Vermont, the waitlist for housing wasn’t as long as in New Hampshire, and she had a therapist immediately available.

LaPointe qualified for housing assistance in Vermont but had to go on a waiting list before an apartment became available. In the interim period, she said, she stayed some nights in a homeless shelter, and some she arranged to camp on a property in exchange for walking the owner’s dog every day.

“I do have two adult children, but I chose to do the tent and the shelter,” LaPointe said. “It was important for me to do as much as I could for myself. It brought me back to the most basic living skills – how do I find food today, how do I use this tarp to stay dry in the rain – I had to get really creative.”

When you bring things to that level, she said, it’s easy to identify the areas you’re excelling in, and the areas your struggling.

Eventually, she rose to the top of the waiting list and now lives permanently in Vermont.

As a whole, she said, her experiences have made her more aware of what she has, and what she’s grateful for.

“I still walk around my apartment and say, ‘I can’t believe I live here,’” LaPointe said.

This mindfulness isn’t a new concept to her, but her experiences have accentuated the importance of living with it high in mind. She calls it her “new curriculum.”

“Personal growth and introspection have always been part of who I am. Cultivating understanding and awareness of having the experiences I’ve had – being able to put myself on the other side of the fence from my previous experiences – is an exceptional gift.”




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