The idea of Dr Charlie Teo as cold or calculating, or reckless, or waiting for money before agreeing to do surgery is as confusing as it is shocking to me.
It doesn’t remotely resemble the person I came to know through one of the most frightening times of my life.
I was 23 and thought I was the perfect picture of health.
I had a great social life, worked full time and walked 10,000 steps each day.
Monica Lopresti flew to Spain to have a benign cystic tumour removed from the centre of her brain by Dr Charlie Teo (pictured Monica Lopresti, centre, with Dr Teo)
Monica was crying with nerves before the surgery and found Dr Teo so empathetic she now regards him as ‘like family’
That all changed in July 2021. I became a person that nobody recognised – bed-ridden, pale, withdrawn. I had blackouts.
Monica Lopresti’s ordeal and recovery
Sydney woman Monica Lopresti was bedridden, pale, having blackouts and losing her memory after turning 24.
She was diagnosed with a benign cystic brain tumour which because of its location was likely to lead to brain damage or death.
But her family was told the tumour inoperable in Australia.
The family contacted Dr Charlie Teo who agreed to operate – but in Spain as he isn’t permitted to work here.
He successfully removed Monica’s tumour in late July, Ms Lopresti is healthy and back at work fulltime.
An MRI scan revealed a benign cystic tumour in the middle of my brain.
While the tumour was benign, its location was blocking normal circulation of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF).
We were devastated when we were told the pressure caused by too much CSF stops the brain from functioning properly and can result in brain damage and death.
By the time the neurosurgeons my mum had contacted – seven of them – told me they couldn’t operate I was already losing my eyesight.
My father had died from brain cancer eight years earlier. I was extremely scared.
So who is Charlie Teo really? I can only describe him from my own experiences and I stand by those.
Let’s get those horrible stories about money out of the way first.
I’ve heard the claims that Dr Teo demands $50,000 before a surgery. That never happened in our situation.
He never even mentioned money in any consultation.
Of course nothing is for free in life but this idea that Dr Teo gets a chunk of the money is just false.
They can’t take someone into hospitals before making payment, so we did make payment prior to surgery.
We don’t want to talk about the specifics of what it cost our family, other than to say it was worth it.
Monica was told a tumour blocking the flow of brain fluid in her brain (the scan at right) could give her brain damage or kill her. By the time she was told by seven neurosurgeons nothing could be done she was already losing her sight
Ms Lopresti maintains Charlie Teo is not ‘money hungry’ and never mentioned payment during consultations. The funds her family raised for her surgery mostly went to the private hospital where he operates in Madrid
People pay thousands of dollars for cosmetic surgery and cars and no one questions that.
When a patient spends thousands on life-saving surgery – how can you put a price on it?
But the money wasn’t important to Dr Teo, what was important to him was that we knew the risks of the surgery.
People pay thousands of dollars for cosmetic surgery and cars and no one questions that, says Ms Lopresti (pictured, Monica and Christina Lopresti)
Within four days of having brain surgery from Dr Teo in Spain she was well enough to explore Madrid (pictured)
When you are going through a storm in life you want to meet someone who can guide you through, give you clear and honest information. It’s even better if they are kind.
Monica Lopresti said Dr Teo was a far better listener than most medical experts she encountered
That is the Dr Teo my family knows.
But it’s not the only thing that made him special to us, he also has a beautiful personality.
He was humble, down-to-earth, empathetic and sweet – a man who listened far more than most doctors I’ve come across.
For the 10 months before I had my surgery, I was at medical centres week after week trying to get some answers on my debilitating symptoms – but was treated like a number, not a person.
People would listen to me for about a minute before dismissing what I had to say or coming up with an answer. It was like no-one cared.
But when I met Dr Teo, I walked into his room and I felt like for the first time I was being heard. He had a lot of knowledge, he recognised all of my symptoms, he made me feel human.
When we were in Madrid before the surgery we had a very bad night. We had lost my father to brain cancer eight years ago and his wish had been to cease treatment. So emotions were running high.
Dr Teo had made it clear to us he was one call away. My mum, Christina, messaged him at 2am and within 15 minutes he was Facetiming me.
I sat there and cried and he just listened to me vent. I treated him like a therapist. And he listened to all of it. That’s when he became like family to us.
He was also straightforward about the risks. He is not a man that trades in false hope as I’ve heard.
On the day of the surgery, he was there before, during and after and that was an amazing comfort.
We had a pre-op appointment in which we went through everything again and met with some of his team.
Dr Charlie Teo: a timeline
1957: born in Sydney on December 24
1981: graduated from UNSW with Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery
1982: started in paediatric surgery, then neurosurgery, then paediatric neurosurgery in Sydney
1989-1999: became the only Australian neurosurgeon certified by a US medical board, refining a minimally invasive keyhole surgical technique while there
2000: Begins to focus on so-called inoperable tumours, which creates friction with peers
2001: Established the Cure Brain Cancer Foundation in 2001
2004: Set up the Centre for Minimally Invasive Neurosurgery
2008: Complained ‘I wouldn’t send my dog to a public hospital’
2011: Named as a Member of the Order of Australia
2012: Gave the 2012 Australia Day speech
2012-14: Named the most dependable Australian
2013: Addressed the US Congress on the need for brain surgery funding
2017: Switched solely to operate privately
2019: Criticised over his high fees and behaviour in media article, as well as patients needing to publicly raise money by Professor Henry Woo
2020: Engaged to former patient and international model, Traci Griffiths
2021: NSW Medical Council bans him from performing types of brain surgery in Australia without independent approval, placed under investigation by Healthcare Complaints Commission
2022: Began to perform surgeries in South Africa and Spain
After the surgery he waited in my room while I was in recovery and surprised my mum. He hugged her and told her how amazing I did.
How often does that happen?
My surgery was done on time and I was told that when I wake up my vision would be weird for a bit which is normal after brain surgery.
When I woke up the majority of my symptoms had left and within four days I was out of hospital and exploring Madrid.
I got lucky – but it’s important to note it’s not just me that has a kind opinion of Dr Teo.
The most common thing you hear from his patients is about his kind and caring nature.
Look at the photos of him with patients. In every photo he’s got his arm around them, he’s smiling.
This sense of him being cold, or egotistical, I don’t understand where it comes from.
To me it seems crazy to say someone is cold when you haven’t met them.
Today I am healthy but still in recovery. I’m working full-time in insurance as a claims assessor in Sydney.
My weekends look like coffee and walks with friends, or movie nights and like anyone, I spend my days at the beach and love swimming at Bondi.
I live a pretty normal life and I have Dr Teo to thank for that, I am convinced he was born to save lives.
I am forever grateful to him and because of that I will be forever in his corner.
If I am scared at all for the future, it is a fear that someone may be diagnosed with a tumour that is high risk and might be left to die because of that risk.
Will future surgeons not be innovative because they are afraid of being shunned by their peers?
It’s hard to understand why patients are being denied the right to choose their surgeon.
If it’s for your life, or the life of your child, what would you do?
This is the choice many families have faced and most of them have not regretted choosing Dr Teo.