Before Huntersville resident James Perri ever earned a medical degree, he was learning first-hand about medical treatment as a 24-year-old brain tumor patient.
Now 40, he will appear Monday on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire to raise money for Operation Oligo Cure, a 501(c)(3) organization his wife, Nancy, started after he was diagnosed a second time with oligodendroglioma, a rare brain tumor.
On Sunday, Perri remembered experiencing a sudden onslaught of dizzy spells when he was a medical student at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey. He said he didnt think anything of it at the time.
When he had an MRI scan a few months later, doctors diagnosed him with oligodendroglioma and explained that the dizzy spells were actually seizures.
The tumor in his right temporal lobe was relatively small, and doctors removed it.
But during an annual brain scan four years ago, doctors found a tumor in the same place.
By that time, Perri was an emergency room doctor at Presbyterian Hospital Huntersville. He also had a wife and two children Jack, 7, and Sophia, 5.
Ill never forget the look on his face when he came home to tell me, said Nancy Perri. It was devastating.
It wasnt just me
Perris doctors decided to take a more aggressive approach to his treatment. He underwent chemotherapy, radiation and surgery.
I was worried because now I had a family; it wasnt just me, he said.
The Perris decided not to tell very many people, including their two children, about his tumor.
We didnt want to get caught up in despair. We just had to keep moving forward, said Nancy Perri.
We thought if we were to stop and get upset, it would just slow our efforts down ... Perri was declared tumor-free in April 2010 and said hes feeling great.
Rather than returning to their regular routine, however, the Perris decided to help the other 24,000 people in the country estimated to have oligodendroglioma.
Nancy Perri said she was often discouraged to find that there was little research and few support groups that specialized in the brain tumor.
I was looking to give back to the cause, said James Perri. Theres no guarantee the way theyve treated it that its not going to come back. I want something that definitely cures it.
So the couple decided to start their own fundraising organization, Operation Oligo Cure.
The organizations mission is to raise awareness and funding to expand clinical trials for oligodendroglioma vaccines.
To help jump-start the organization, James Perri tried out for Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, resolving to donate all the money he earned to the organization.
I thought it was right up my alley. I thought I would do well because I have a broad base of knowledge, he said.
Just a few days before he was scheduled to receive radiation at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Perri visited New York City to take a Millionaire test and conduct an in-person interview.
A year and a half after he applied, producers asked James to appear on a November taping of the show.
That episode will air tonight at 7:30 p.m. on WBTV. Perri said he cant disclose how much he won on the show.
The airing will serve as the perfect prelude to Operation Oligo Cures kickoff event, from 8 a.m. to noon April 28 at the Fitness Center in Birkdale Village. Nancy works at the center part-time.
On that day, residents will be able to sign up for four exercise classes, two of which will be outside with a DJ.
All money donated to Operation Oligo Cure will go toward research.
Nancy Perri has organized a board of directors to decide which oligodendroglioma research proposals the nonprofit should fund.
Shes really the one whos impressive in this whole thing, James Perri said. To put this whole thing together is remarkable.