Farmington Hills resident Barbara Carlson, far right, recently played an angel in her church’s annual Christmas play, “The Mission.” The play was about 10 angels from the Search and Rescue Division in heaven who were trying to locate the missing Jesus.

Farmington Hills resident Barbara Carlson, far right, recently played an angel in her church’s annual Christmas play, “The Mission.” The play was about 10 angels from the Search and Rescue Division in heaven who were trying to locate the missing Jesus.

Photo provided by Barbara Carlson


Farmington Hills woman overcomes potential paralysis, participates in play

By: Sherri Kolade | Farmington Press | Published December 18, 2017

FARMINGTON  HILLS — The show went off without a hitch for Farmington Hills resident Barbara Carlson, 66, who recently played an angel in her church’s annual Christmas play, “The Mission.”

A complicated surgery weeks prior didn’t keep her from the stage.

The play featured 10 angels from the Search and Rescue Division in heaven trying to locate the missing Jesus, Carlson said, adding that her character, Gloria, was in a food fight.

“It was a comedy with a message,” she said.

In the months leading up to opening night, there had been a serious possibility that Carlson might not participate in the annual play at her church, First Presbyterian Church of Farmington, because there were questions about whether a benign tumor located in a salivary gland in her cheek would paralyze her face. Her symptoms included severe vertigo.

Carlson said she asked her doctor, Henry Ford Cancer Institute head and neck surgeon Dr. Tamer Ghanem, in June — before the four-hour Sept. 5 surgery — if she could make rehearsals to the Christmas play, and things weren’t looking too optimistic.

“My favorite thing in the world to do is to be in this Christmas play, (and Ghanem) said, ‘I cannot promise you, because this surgery is very tricky,’” Carlson said.

Everything she read about the surgery described how complicated it is because her tumor was “so wrapped up” in her facial nerves. She could have faced facial paralysis and been unable to make facial expressions in real life or onstage.

“That is when it really hit me that, ‘Wow, this is super serious,’” said Carlson, who has been involved in her church’s Christmas plays for over 15 years.

Carlson said that, thankfully, she had an excellent outcome from the surgery. Her tumor was about an inch in diameter — the size of an apricot.

“Although I have very minor facial weakness, I can speak normally and move my facial muscles well. This was a much better result than could have been, considering the tumor’s  involvement with the facial nerve,” she said in a follow-up email. 

Carlson added that her active lifestyle of walking, hiking and more wasn’t too slowed down, either, post-surgery. 

“Two grandchildren (out of 10) were married recently, and I was able to attend their weddings. I am also back to walking and hiking. I plan to walk in a 10K and a half-marathon in the spring,” she said, adding that Ghanem was understanding of her personal life outside the doctor’s office.

Carlson, a retired teacher, said that upon selecting Ghanem as her doctor, she “liked him tremendously” and she knew immediately that he was the one.

“He was so thorough and so interested in my case and connected with me, and spent a tremendous amount of time with me and my husband,” she said, adding that Ghanem worked around her schedule and even attended the play. “I couldn’t believe he came. We’re so lucky that we have … one of the most outstanding surgeons in his field in the country right here in Detroit,” she said.

Ghanem said that Carlson is a “great lady,” and that the hospital treats patients according to their needs and lifestyle.

“There are things that are very important to them, and those things can be very different from one patient to another,” he said.

Carlson was no different.

“I like to find out from each patient what is important to them and what they want to be doing (after surgery) and what are their primary concerns,” Ghanem said, adding that he learned very quickly what was important to Carlson. “If she’s an actress, her face is kind of critical in order to perform her job.”

Ghanem said that he was very cautious in what he did.

“My goal for her was to be able to act in the play she wanted to be involved in, and she just did in fact do that ... and she did a wonderful job, and it was great to see that,” Ghanem said.

For more information, go to www.henryford.com.