Charlotte Bredahl Reports Brain Tumor Caused by Metastatic Melanoma as Cause of Near Paralysis

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July 5, 2020

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

Charlotte Bredahl, an American Olympic team medalist and official Developing coach, disclosed Sunday the cause of the loss of use of her limbs was a metastatic melanoma that was undetected by regular testing until it eventually resulted in a brain tumor.

After weeks of being “terrified” as she was unable initially to get a brain scan as the coronavirus pandemic had closed doctors’ offices, she was able have the problem diagnosed and the tumor was removed a week ago by surgeons at Palms West Hospital near her home in Wellington, Florida.

Now into rehabilitation, Charlotte, 63, plans to leave Florida within the next few days to escape spiralling coronavirus cases to go to the 40-acre/16ha. farm of her husband, Joel Baker, in California’s Santa Ynez Valley away from population centers where the virus has barely had an impact. Charlotte, originally from Denmark, lived there from 1990 until recently when she moved to Wellington and its Global Dressage Festival as the U.S. Equestrian Federation Developing coach. She rode on the U.S. bronze medal team at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

The problem first became apparent about the third week of March just as the world was shutting down because of the spread of Covid-19 when she was having motor skills issues. While riding, she lost her left stirrup a couple of times and could not hold it.

“I knew something was wrong and it progressed to the point where I was dragging my left foot behind me,” she told dressage-news.com. “I could only pick it up from the knee but my ankle and foot were kind of dead.

“I was terrified and no one would see me because everything had shut down. There was nothing I could do, absolutely nothing. So I kind of lived with it. It got a little worse and then it got better.”

Over the next month her condition improved and she was back to feeling normal.

After offices began re-opening, she said, the symptoms were completely gone and a neurologist she consulted made light of what had happened–“I can’t explain it but you’re fine now,” she quoted him.

“He didn’t do any tests other than pushing on my legs and stuff like that but he didn’t do a scan or anything,” Charlotte said. “I didn’t push for it because I wanted to hear good news that everything was fine. But I should have. I knew there was something serious. I was thinking MS (multiple schlerosis) at the time. So I went home thinking everything must be OK, and had no symptoms at all at that time.”

No symptoms meant no impairment of her abilities as an athlete; she plays tennis and performs ballroom dancing.

However, while giving a clinic in Michigan June 11-18, her condition “started deteriorating so fast that it scared the life out of me. It started again, losing feeling in my left foot and than I started having incredible muscle fatigue. I could barely keep myself standing up at all.

“During the time I was in Michigan at the clinic I had to sit down the entire time. Getting home I had to get in a wheelchair. It happened so fast. It started from my foot and traveled up my left side. By the time I was back in Wellington the weakness had gotten all the way up to my shoulder, the whole entire left side; very terrifying.”

Desperate to see a doctor as she feared becoming paralyzed, she pressed for a scan as soon as possible. An hour or two after the examination June 24 she was told to return.

“I knew that was big trouble,” Charlotte recalled. ‘She sat me down and said, ‘You’ve got a brain tumor, you’re getting operated on on Friday’.

“At that point I was so terrified of being completely paralyzed because I could feel my whole body disappear it was a relief to me. It didn’t scare me. It was do whatever you have to do. I had no options, It was, ‘Just do it’.”

Joel had been told the day before, and he dropped everything to fly to Florida where he has been, she said, “every step of the way.”

In the eight days since the operation, a diagnosis of the tumor found that it was metastatic melanoma that had spread to her brain.

“I have religiously gone to a dermatologist for full body checkups every six months,” she said. “They have cut off stuff, performed biopsies and have never found a melanoma on me. So something was missed along the line.”

In recent years, though, an immune therapy has been developed producing “fantastic results,” way better than chemotherapy, radiation or any similar treatment.

She expects to complete physical therapy at a facility in Delray Beach, less than 20 miles/32km from Wellington in the next few days. She can continue outpatient procedures in California.

A benefit of the surgery, has been that at least two bad headaches she has suffered a week for years have gone away.

“Since the surgery I have not had one headache, which is a miracle after that type of surgery.”

The absence of pain and outpouring of “crazy, unbelievable” support, especially from Joel and good friend Kathy Connelly has helped keep up her spirits.

Kathy Connelly and Charlotte Bredahl

Charlotte hopes to return to Wellington late in the year and ahead of the winter-long Global circuit when coronavirus might be under control.

“I can continue working as much as ever and also drive my riders crazy calling on them,” she laughed. “I’ve already started. I love my job and I can do that just as well in California.”