Story of Healing

Carlie Falke

Calcasieu Parish

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"We’ve gotten joy and a sense of peace from the level of care provided to Carlie and our family. I drive to New Orleans without complaint because I’m so grateful we have this level of care so close to home."

In May 2021, Carlie Falke, a 13-year old living in Moss Bluff, LA, in Calcasieu Parish, went to a doctor in nearby Lake Charles with her family because her back was bothering her and they thought she may have scoliosis. 

It was at that medical center in Lake Charles that a nurse personally recommended Carlie and her family immediately see Dr. Michael Heffernan, a specialist in Pediatric Orthopedic and Scoliosis Surgery at Children’s Hospital New Orleans. 

“The confidence with which that nurse recommended Children’s and Dr. Heffernan mattered to me,” recalled Carlie’s mom, Natalie. 

That very next week, the Falkes arrived at Children’s Hospital. It was confirmed that Carlie had a left curvature in her spine, and a few days later, Carlie underwent an MRI. This in and of itself was distressing, shared Natalie, as Carlie is on the spectrum and has trouble staying still for a long period of time. Carlie was administered anesthesia to ensure the MRI was successful. 

Just three days later, Dr. Heffernan called Natalie and asked her to bring Carlie back to Children’s immediately; they had found a tumor and Dr. Heffernan was transferring Carlie to Dr. Jerome Volk for additional treatment and care. Natalie remembers this day vividly.

“The way they handled everything was incredibly professional,” shared Natalie. “We came into the doctor’s office, and the nurse brought us back to an exam room immediately. Once we were settled, the nurse took Carlie out of the room, and Dr. Volk came in to tell us that Carlie did in fact have cancer. I just thought that the whole process was professional and intentional. They allowed us to determine how and when we told Carlie she had cancer. That is professional and top notch care.”

Carlie was diagnosed with Ganglioglioma, a rare tumor that usually grows from groups of nerve cells in the brain and can spread to the spine. What was different with Carlie, said Natalie, is that her tumor was only in her spine. 

Carlie’s tumor was five and a half inches long. Dr. Volk scheduled Carlie for surgery the very next week, indicating that he planned to go in and determine whether or not he could remove the full tumor during surgery. If he could not, he would stop the procedure and recommend chemotherapy and radiation treatment. 

Leading up to the surgery, Carlie’s care team was very thorough in prepping Carlie and her family for what to expect, shared Natalie. The surgery itself lasted nine hours and Natalie recalls when Dr. Volk emerged from the operating room, he looked exhausted, yet hopeful. He informed Carlie’s family that he was able to remove the full tumor. 

Carlie stayed in the ICU for four days recovering, then another four days in a regular room. 

“During our stay at Children’s I could not complain about one single thing about Carlie’s care or one single person we encountered,” said Natalie. “I never felt uneasy, I never doubted anything about the care given to Carlie. That is unheard of in the medical industry these days.”

Carlie is now a freshman at Sam Houston High School. She is the manager of the volleyball team, she is kind-hearted, very smart, loves animals, and is quick to keep her three older brothers and older sister in line. Carlie has two more surgeries planned – one in December and one in the spring – both of which aim to strengthen her spine and address the curvature.

“Our family is so appreciative of Children’s,” shared Natalie. “We’ve gotten joy and a sense of peace from the level of care provided to Carlie and our family. I drive to New Orleans without complaint because I’m so grateful we have this level of care so close to home.”

Learn more about Children’s Hospital’s Orthopedic services here and neurosurgery services here.