Local women raise money for friend’s surgery

Published 9:09 am Thursday, January 30, 2014

Sharilee Sprowles spends most of her days living in darkness.

Unfortunately, in her case, that’s not a metaphor.

Sprowles, a resident of Stanton, Mich., has suffered from chronic headaches and vertigo for nearly seven years, impacting her vision and balance.

“I spend most of my time in my dark bedroom,” she said. “Movement, sound, they all make it worse.”

Her condition prevents her from holding down a job or driving long distances, and has also hindered her ability to raise her two sons alongside her husband.

After years of visiting specialists around the country in search of a cure, Sprowles has finally found a Texas-based surgeon who will be able to operate on her brain next month, removing a mass on her Pineal gland that is the source of her maladies. While her health insurance provider will pay for 80 percent of the medical costs, the remaining medical costs and travel expenses will place a heavy financial burden on Sprowles and her family.

However, a group of local women, Melissa Potter, Peggie Hood and Marci Killarney have stepped up to the plate to give Sprowles a helping hand in her time of need.

The three will host a fundraiser at the Beeson Street Bar & Grill from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday during the Dowagiac Ice Time Festival. Visitors will be able to purchase homemade cookies, cakes, pies and other assorted baked goods, with the proceeds going toward Sprowles’ operation.

“Beeson’s is participating in the chili cook-off that day, and they always have a lot of stuff going on in there,” Killarney, a former employee at the restaurant, said. “We’ve previously had bake sales in there before for cancer fundraisers.”

Killarney and Hood, a Beeson Street employee, helped make arrangements with the owners to hold the bake sale this weekend after learning that Sprowles surgery was scheduled for Feb. 20. The two were first made aware of her condition and financial needs by Potter, who has been friends with Sprowles for 26 years.

Potter said she has supported her friend since she learned about the growth inside her brain in 2007. However, the two have not actually met face-to-face in more than two years, as Sprowles’ condition worsened.

“She feels like she’s in between a rock and a hard place, since she can’t really get anywhere,” Potter said.

Sprowles had looked for a doctor to operate on her mass for years, though every specialist she talked to either disagreed that the mass was the problem or told her they did not have the skill to perform such intense brain surgery. Although doctors prescribed alternative treatments and medications to help alleviate the pain, none were able to improve her worsening condition.

In November, she joined an online support group, which eventually helped her track down Dong Kim, a surgeon based out of Austin who has experience removing Pineal gland cysts.

“I’m incredibly blessed,” Sprowles said. “If it hadn’t been for the support group I don’t if I could ever have found him.”

Right now, Sprowles and her family faces a $1,500 deductible fee they must pay up front for the operation, which Potter and the other organizers hope to raise on Saturday.

“I know a bake sale isn’t going to make a fortune, but it’s enough to cover something,” Potter said. “I would love to cover an airline ticket for her husband, too.”

In addition to the bake sale, Sprowles and her friends have set up an online donation page for the operation as well. They had also been spreading the word to others via Facebook.

“We’ve mostly contacted moms,” Potter said. “What would you do if you still have school-age kids at home and you’re faced with this?”

After receiving the surgery, Sprowles will have to remain in Texas for nearly a month, as her doctor told her that she should not travel by plane during her recovery, she said. From there, Sprowles said she hopes she will be able to re-enroll at Ferris State University, where she was studying nursing at before her headaches forced her to put her degree on hold.

“I want to be an advocate for other people with this condition and get the word out,” she said. “I want get these people the treatment they need.”