By Aaron Blevins, 5/24/2012
Albuquerque Resident Gets Second Chance at St. Vincent Medical Center
Vincent Cordova considers himself lucky in many ways. As it would turn out, so are some of his fellow Albuquerque, N.M., firefighters, who won $10,000 during the monster Mega Millions jackpot at the end of March.
Cordova had been diagnosed with a potentially life-threatening tumor growing at the base of his skull. Though the group of firefighters worked a different station and did not know Cordova personally, they donated a portion of their winnings to his cause. That offering helped fund his recent trip to Los Angeles, where he underwent critical brain surgery at the House Clinic at St. Vincent Medical Center.
“That was just a blessing,” Cordova said through a raspy voice, still recovering from his surgery. “It just shows how strong the firefighter bond is.”
The 25-year-old was relatively new to the fire department, having been there just three years. While answering a medical call, Cordova experienced a strange occurrence that affected his hearing.
His station had been called to a scene in which a screaming, 3-year-old child and the child’s mother needed to be transported to a local emergency room. During the transport, Cordova held the howling child.
Afterwards, he noticed a ringing in his ears, and three or four days later, it persisted. His chief advised to him to have it checked out, so he did, and was asked to return in 10 days. By then, Cordova lost 74 percent of his hearing, and MRI and CT scans showed he had a rare tumor that affects 2 percent of the population.
“He was unfortunate in that he had it, but was fortunate that incident occurred and brought it to his attention,” his father, Joe, said.
The family consulted with an ear, nose and throat surgeon in New Mexico, and he suggested that Cordova try the House Clinic, which the doctor described as the foremost authority in brain tumors, to have the tumor removed. The clinic has performed 150 such surgeries, the doctor said.
The family drove the 12-plus hours to Los Angeles and met with Drs. Derald Brackmann and Marc Schwartz, who performed a 10-hour surgery on April 4 that removed a golf ball size tumor from the base of his skull. The tumor was growing on a nerve that connected to the inner ear and the esophagus.
“The type of tumor that Vincent experienced was benign and very rare,” Brackmann said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the cause of these tumors is unknown.”
Cordova had three additional procedures: one inserted a feeding tube, another inserted a shunt to relieve spinal fluid pressure and a thyroplasty improved his voice. He now has difficulty speaking and swallowing, though he will regain those functions. His hearing on his right side, however, has been permanently damaged.
“I’m getting better every day,” Cordova said. “It’s horrible … but I’m adjusting. I’m adjusting well.”
It was during his hospital stay that the firefighters matched five numbers in the Mega Millions drawing to yield $10,000. Capt. Jed Hyland said the firefighters do not normally play the lottery, but since the jackpot was so high, the five of them pitched in. After winning, they donated a portion of their winnings to Cordova and his family.
“It’s a good profession that way,” Hyland said of the firefighter bond.
He said that once the news of the donation spread, the department, which consists of approximately 700 firefighters, “lit up” with phone calls from people nationwide. Hyland said the experience was very positive.
“It was overwhelming the outpouring it generated,” he added.
Cordova also turned 25 during his stay. The hospital celebrated with him, and Los Angeles Fire Department Capt. Frank Líma and United Firefighters of Los Angeles Local 112 director Tony Gamboa paid him a visit.
“The brotherhood and sisterhood of the firefighters is special, because one of your own can be thousands of miles away and in need of help, but with our strong relationships, help is always around the corner,” Líma said.
After intensive therapy during a five-day boot camp at USC, Cordova went to Anaheim for further work. Although they were grateful for the hospitality and support in Southern California, the family was happy to return home last weekend. Cordova is expected to continue therapy almost daily for the next eight to 12 months.
He credits his recovery to the prayers and support he received throughout the ordeal. Joe Cordova said his son received support from groups all over the world, and that kept him going.
“It was great,” Joe Cordova said. “The outpouring of the community — some known, some unknown — has been tremendous. …You’re in God’s hands when you have something like this come to you.”
Vincent Cordova said he hopes to be an inspiration to other people. He also hopes to return to firefighting as soon as he recovers.
“I’m still a firefighter,” Vincent Cordova said. “I’m just not active right now. I’m ready to get back in there.”
Financially, the surgeries set the family back. Both of Vincent Cordova’s parents have been off work since traveling to Los Angeles, and though he has insurance, he’ll probably have to pay for 40 percent of the out-of-network procedures. The family has solicited donations through his blog, firefightercordova.blogspot.com.
“Anyone who can help me out is a great help,” Vincent Cordova said. “It not only helps me, it helps my family.”