Six months after undergoing highly specialized surgery to remove an acoustic neuroma – a benign skull base tumor that was the size of a small egg – Erika D. has a message for others battling brain tumors: don’t give up.
To her, these aren’t just words. They represent the hope she wants to pay forward after finding best-in-class treatment and comfort at the Gerald J. Glasser Brain Tumor Center.
“When I was diagnosed with a brain tumor, my whole world turned upside down,” says Erika. “It really goes to show you can’t take anything for granted because it can be taken away from you in an instant.”
For Erika, who works in the health care field as a patient service representative, the warning signs that something wasn’t right were sudden and intense. She was running errands on a typical day and while walking from the grocery store out to her car, sharp jaw pain stopped her in her tracks. Driving home, she became so dizzy she needed to pull over in the nearest parking lot. She then noticed she couldn’t hear out of her left ear and
the left side of her face was numb.
“I thought I was having a stroke and called 911,” explains Erika.
The paramedics came and told her that her heart looked fine, so she went to Overlook Medical Center for further evaluation. After having a CAT scan done, the doctor delivered results that Erika never expected to hear. She had a tumor at the base of her skull that was pressing on her brainstem.
Erika was connected right away with Fabio Frisoli, MD, Director of Skull Base Neurosurgery at Atlantic Health System’s Gerald J. Glasser Brain Tumor Center and a neurosurgeon with Atlantic NeuroSurgical Specialists.
“I was in shock, but Dr. Frisoli was incredibly reassuring from the first moment we met,” says Erika. “He earned my trust very quickly with his comforting bedside manner and the way he thoroughly explained what was going on to both me and my family.”
Given the tumor’s size, the pressure it was exerting on Erika’s hearing and facial nerves and Erika’s young age, Dr. Frisoli recommended the tumor be removed.
“We have two goals with this type of surgery: first, safely remove as much of the tumor as possible and second, preserve the patient’s facial function. This is extremely challenging given that acoustic neuromas form from the lining of the vestibular nerves, which run alongside the facial nerve,” explains Dr. Frisoli. “In Erika’s particular case, the tumor was also compressing the brainstem, adding a very serious layer of complexity. Removing her tumor without disrupting the surrounding brain tissue required the highest level of precision and care.”
Erika D., brain tumor patient
Using a proven co-surgery approach, Dr. Frisoli and Jed A. Kwartler, MD – a neurotologist (specialist in ear surgery) on staff at Overlook Medical Center – removed 100 percent of Erika’s tumor during a five-and-a-half-hour surgery.
“I was so relieved they got all of my tumor out, but after surgery is when my hard work started,” says Erika. "Dr. Frisoli and Dr. Kwartler both knew I could recover fully with rehabilitation. Had they not removed the tumor like they did, my quality of life would have likely been affected permanently.”
After six months of physical therapy and occupational therapy, and just a few days of speech therapy, Erika now feels 98 percent back to normal. She’s back to working full time, driving, spending time with her husband, hanging out with her friends and enjoying the little things in life.
“I’m a very upbeat person, but it wasn’t always easy to stay positive,” Erika shares. “I worked extremely hard to get back to where I am now and am lucky to have had the amazing support of my husband, family, friends, community and a really excellent medical team.”