It’s a new year and for one local family, the new year begins with continued struggles. Steve Chafe and his family were rocked with news in early November that he was suffering from a tumor in his brain stem. On November 15, Steve underwent 10 ½ hours of surgery to remove the tumor, called an acoustic neuroma.
Despite what the surgeon described as a very tough tumor, Steve pulled through. Though not without a lot of collateral damage. The tumor was stuck to the brain and much of the connecting nerves. The auditory nerve had to be cut, causing permanent loss of hearing in one ear. But the facial nerves were saved, though the affects still linger.
Since Nov. 15, Steve, his wife Christina and their sons Brody and Bowen have been thrust into a new way of life, as Steve battles through rehabilitation. He is not concerned with what has been lost, but rather trying to stay focused on what he can achieve moving forward.
“Right now, all I’m worried about is getting back to as normal as possible,” Steve said recently as he sat in his Seal Beach home.
Normal gets shattered
It was November 2, when Steve and Christina were getting ready to go see a movie. Steve had been hearing a ringing in his ear but thought it might just be residual effects from his job as a Firefighter/Paramedic. But suddenly he began having trouble talking, enough that Christina could not understand him.
She asked him if he thought he could be having a stroke. Christina said they were going straight to Hoag Hospital to get checked. An MRI revealed the tumor, somewhere between the size of a golf ball and baseball. The acoustic neuroma is rare, but one of the premier hospitals in treating it happened to be located at UC San Diego.
With the possibility of it getting worse and Steve unable to make the move, Christina decided to get him to San Diego immediately. The surgical team was led by Ear, Nose and Throat Dr. Rick Friedman and Neurologist Dr. Marc Schwartz.
Despite doctors telling the family that it was one of the hardest tumors they had ever worked on, Steve pulled through. The 10 ½ hour surgery was not finished until 10:30 p.m. Steve had to spend three days in the Intensive Care Unit and what was expected to be week stay turned to three.
Post operative recovery was up and down. Steve was suffering from a lot of pain and discomfort, as well as blurred vision, a temperature and a facial droop, among others. He would eventually have to undergo a procedure to place a gold weight in one of his eyelids because it would not close completely on it own.
Approximately three days later, Steve began mild rehab and by Nov. 22, he was moved the Scripps Acute Rehab Center in Encinitas. Christina’s sister Dana Aguilera chronicled the journey in a blog to keep friends and family.
“For Steve, it will be a battle to regain full control of muscles that are receiving mixed messages from facial and cranial nerves damaged by surgery,” Dana wrote on Nov. 23, Steve’s first full day of rehab. “For Christina, it will be heart wrenching to watch her strong fire fighter husband struggle with tasks that were once trivial. For the boys, it will be difficult to see their dad and hero, weakened and struggling. Our friends and families are affected as well, as we hurt for our loved ones and long for the ability to make everything better as quickly as possible.”
Eventually, Steve arrived home on Dec. 4, one day before Christina’s mother, who had been battling health issues passed away.
Road to recovery
Steve had lost 15 pounds of muscle. He had trouble straightening his legs and was very weak. He had balance issues and was a fall risk. But as Steve had begun his road to recovery, the community of Seal Beach had been finding ways to help. OCFA Captain Scott Belshe delivered a Christmas tree and decorated it with the help of Steve’s sons Brody, 16, and Bowen, 13.
The Chafe’s had been looking to remodel their backyard.
With Steve’s long recovery ahead, the community decided to help get it done so he would have a nice place to be outside. Firefighters and other community members organized work days to begin the project. Local businesses, such as O’Malley’s provided lunch.
Steve’s parents were teachers in the area. His mother, Donna, taught at Zoeter School and McGaugh Elementary School. His father, Paul, was a lifeguard in Seal Beach as a young man and also taught at McGaugh. Steve has served as a firefighter/Paramedic at Station 44 in Seal Beach and his boys a members of the Leo’s the Lions Club group for youths.
One day, a neighbor provided lunch for the work crew, simply because his child had once had Donna as a kindergarten teacher.
The Chafe’s have lived and served in Seal Beach since 1938 and the community was eager to give back. Lisa Landau, one of the organizers of a new gofundme page, said that once the Chafe’s were comfortable letting the news out, it took just one Facebook post, to bring on an overwhelming response.
“Everybody was, like, what can we do to help this family,” Lisa said. “They’ve (The Chafe family) affected a lot of lives and I think that’s what’s come full circle.”
For Christina, the struggle has been different. She considers herself a doer. She has tried to maintain a sense of control. She has had to navigate the hospital and insurance paperwork, while trying to be Steve’s main support in the house. If he gets up at night to go to the bathroom, she gets up too. She has been able to keep her senses by focusing on what she can control.
Still, the help and support the family has received has caught her off guard. Even hotels down in San Diego, would hold rooms for her, just in case she needed to stay more nights than planned.
“It was people’s kindness that did me in,” Christina said.
Anyone who would like to help can find the gofundme page at www.gofundme.com/steve-chafe