Department of Neurosurgery


Finding a One-in-a-Million Doc

When he’s not on the go with his wife, Celine, or their college-age children, Thomas and Lilly, Chris Kuhn can be found cycling, skiing, or tackling home projects. From the outside, the 54-year-old interventional radiologist from Maine looks like the picture of health. But, in truth, he’s been living with a rare form of cancer since 2004, when a scan of his back revealed a large tumor. At the time, he sought options from several of the nation’s top hospitals; none could offer him an accurate diagnosis or hopeful treatment strategy. “It was a pretty grim time,” he recalls. “I felt like I had one foot in the grave.”

Then, he found Ziya Gokaslan, MD, FACS. Today, Dr. Gokaslan is Neurosurgeon-in-Chief at Rhode Island Hospital and Co-Director of the Norman Prince Neurosciences Institute. He is also in charge of the Norman Prince Spine Institute. But 17 years ago, he was practicing at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Maryland. By chance, a friend of Chris saw Dr. Gokaslan present at a conference and was so impressed that he suggested he visit him.

“Z was the first one to say, ‘Yeah, that’s chordoma and I know what to do,’” Chris remembers. A chordoma is an exceedingly rare tumor that can occur anywhere along the spine. Only one in a million people will get a
chordoma. Luckily, Chris met a one-in-a-million doctor.

Dr. Gokaslan is a world-renowned expert in complex spinal reconstruction and radical surgical treatment of tumors. He performed a complicated, risky surgery on Chris that involved removing the bones that cover his spinal cord as well as the nerves that come out of it; completely removing the chordoma; and stabilizing then reconstructing everything back to its intended function. “He saved my life,” Chris says.

Over the years, the pair stayed in contact. And last summer, when a scan revealed Chris had a T12 burst fracture in his spine above his original surgical site, he once again relied on Dr. Gokaslan, who was now closer, at Rhode Island Hospital.

“When I saw Chris’ images, I became very concerned,”Dr. Gokaslan says. “I didn’t want it to progress to the point where he was paralyzed.” This surgery, too, involved the large-scale reconstruction and realignment of the supportive areas of Chris’ spine and back. The operation was a success, and two weeks later Chris was back riding his bike.

“I’m the luckiest guy in the world,” Chris says, “and I’m eternally grateful for the care I received from Dr. Gokaslan and the amazing team at Rhode Island Hospital.” Dr. Gokaslan says philanthropy plays a key role in realizing such positive outcomes. “The generosity of the Prince family, whose investments in the Norman Prince Neurosciences Institute fund our transformative research and advanced clinical care programs, is what makes success stories like Chris’ possible.”


Ziya L. Gokaslan, MD

Julius Stoll, MD Professor and Chair, Department of Neurosurgery
Neurosurgeon-in-Chief, Rhode Island Hospital and The Miriam Hospital
Clinical Director, Norman Prince Neurosciences Institute
President, Neurosurgery Foundation