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Leaning on faith, Ali Nowotny leaves for Mayo
Ali Nowotny stands the doorway of her kitchen while waiting for her dad Craig as the two get ready to leave for the Mayo Clinic on Tuesday morning Dec. 16. (Photo by Kristina Barker, Journal staff)

Ali Nowotny suspects God's trying to tell her something.

Ever since the Rapid City Journal reported that she was undergoing brain surgery at Mayo Clinic, the St. Thomas More junior has been inundated with letters, calls and visits. Each and every person has given her the same message: "Everything will be OK."

(EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first in a series of stories about Rapid City teenager Ali Nowotny, who will be undergoing brain surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Journal reporter Lynn Taylor Rick and photographer Kristina Barker are following Ali through her medical journey.)

"I think God is trying to get it through my head that it's going to be alright," she said.

Ali, 17, was diagnosed with a size tumor in her left temporal lobe this summer. The tumor, initially diagnosed in 2006 as scarring on her brain, caused seizures, called partial complex seizures. The seizures leave Ali spaced out for several minutes at a time. They also slur her speech and give her headaches. The condition is a form of epilepsy.

Since 2006, Ali's been on high doses of a medication to control the seizures. Doctors hope to take Ali off the medication once the tumor is removed, but it's likely to take years to wean her from the drugs.

Early Tuesday morning, with the air painfully crisp and the tree branches brittle, Ali and her father Craig Nowotny loaded their bags into their car and headed east on Interstate 90 toward Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

It's a long trip to Mayo, especially when brain surgery awaits at the other end. But Ali says she's definitely ready. "I'm anxious to have it over with," she said.

Doctors initially wanted to remove the tumor in August, but Ali asked to finish her cheer and dance season. Doctors OK'd the delay, and Ali's St. Thomas More dance team went on to win the Class A Team Dance Championship.

It was worth it, said Ali with a big smile.

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Ali was scheduled to undergo a Wada test Wednesday morning at the Mayo Clinic. During the procedure, doctors anesthetize the left side of the brain for several minutes while they ask questions and give instructions. The test will help guide the neurosurgeon when he operates on Friday. The goal is to remove the tumor without causing damage to her memory and language centers, said Ali's doctor, Mayo pediatric neurologist Elaine Wirrell.

While Wirrell believes the tumor is likely benign, she said removing it without affecting Ali's speech and memory are foremost on everyone's minds. "That's a bit of an issue."

On Thursday, Ali undergoes an MRI and sees her Mayo neurosurgeon, Nicholas Wetjen.

Friday morning, she checks in at St. Mary's Hospital for brain surgery. If removing all of the tumor risks damaging the brain, doctors may only remove part of it, but the hope is all of the tumor will be gone and so, eventually, will Ali's seizures.

"We're very much hoping that the surgery alone is enough treatment for this," Wirrell said. "Our goal is really seizure freedom."

Ali has the same hopes.

"I'm just trying to have faith."

Lynn Taylor Rick can be reached at 394-8414 or lynn.taylorrick@rapidcityjournal.com.

Title: Ali's Journey

Date: December 16th, 2008

Follow Ali Nowotny's journey as she travels to Minnesota to undergo brain surgery to remove a brain tumor.

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