There was a time in Alisha’s young life when she was angry at her fate and bitter about her life. “I wondered why this had to happen to me,” she said.
Today her outlook is one of eagerness and optimism.
With the help of Dr. Philip Theodosopoulos of the Mayfield Clinic and Dr. Myles Pensak of University ENT Specialists, she is free of a recurrent brain tumor and looking forward to a healthy, normal life. surgeons at the Brain Tumor Center at the University of Cincinnati Neuroscience Institute at University Hospital, removed the tumor – an acoustic neuroma – shortly before the 2006 Christmas holiday. Alisha, accompanied by her mother and two sisters, went home to Overland Park, Kansas, a week later.
“This place is so wonderful it’s almost scary,” Alisha said after her surgery at University Hospital. “It’s as though Dr. Theo heard our prayers to God.”
Alisha was 13 when she developed chronic headaches. An MRI revealed the acoustic neuroma on the right side of her brain, near the internal auditory canal. An acoustic neuroma is a tumor that grows from the sheath (covering) of nerves that are responsible for hearing and balance. Although an acoustic neuroma is technically “benign,” it can cause serious damage as it grows by exerting increasing pressure on surrounding nerves and the brain.
In Alisha’s case, the original tumor was 5 centimeters in diameter -- “a monster,” in the words of her doctor.
Alisha’s surgery was fraught with complications. She suffered a brain hemorrhage a few days after the operation and was in the hospital for three months. She recovered slowly, progressing from a wheelchair to a walker to a cane. In addition, her right facial nerve, which controlled muscles on the right side of her face, was damaged during the surgery, and she suffered facial paralysis on that side. Even when she was happy, she could no longer smile completely.
Damage to the facial nerve is an infrequent but very real complication of surgery for acoustic neuroma. “The facial nerve can be injured when the surgeon is peeling it away from the tumor,” Dr. Pensak said. “Or it can be damaged by a loss of blood supply.”
But an even more ominous reality remained. Alisha’s surgeon was not able to remove the entire tumor, leaving a high risk that it would grow back.
Nevertheless, Alisha’s spirit remained intact, and she was determined to move forward with her life. “When she walked into high school the first day of her freshman year, she was using a cane,” said Alisha’s mother, Gulzar. “That was not an easy thing. I was very proud of her.”
An MRI taken six months later showed no appreciable growth of the remaining tumor; but within a year, it had more than doubled in size, from less than one centimeter in diameter to more than two centimeters. Alisha would need treatment again.
This time she was referred to a different specialist, Dr. William Rosenberg, a neurosurgeon at a Kansas City hospital, for possible radiation treatment. Dr. Rosenberg, a former neurosurgeon with Cincinnati’s Mayfield Clinic, determined that radiating the acoustic neuroma was not the best treatment option for Alisha. He preferred that she see Dr. Theodosopoulos, a rising young skull base surgeon – one who is skilled at operating deep within the brain. Dr. Rosenberg and Dr. Theodosopoulos had met years earlier when Dr. Theodosopoulos was training at the University of California San Francisco.
Dr. Theodosopoulos agreed to see Alisha, whose family had no health insurance, and Alisha and her family drove east in October 2006. Dr. Theodosopoulos then consulted with Dr. Pensak, Chairman of the Department of Otolaryngology at the University of Cincinnati. Together, the surgeons decided that they would be able to perform Alisha’s surgery at no charge. The University Hospital offered the family a discount, provided they paid a certain percentage of the cost up front.
The family, still wary after their first surgical experience, trusted Dr. Theodosopoulos. “For us to go through this a second time around, it was very difficult, said Alisha’s sister, Natasha. “But he had a very clear plan of action.
He gave us time to think about it. We all felt she was in the right hands and this is where she should be treated.”
Alisha, meanwhile, was as brave and confident as ever. “Just by seeing him walk into the room I knew that Dr. Theo was the one,” she said.
After raising money for her hospitalization through community and school fundraisers, Alisha and her family returned to Cincinnati for surgery on December 15.
When Dr. Theodosopoulos asked her how she felt just prior to her surgery, she replied, “I’m excited.”
Drs. Theodosopoulos and Pensak performed the operation together, combining surgical skills within the skull base and auditory arena, over a period of six hours. “This time the tumor was completely and radically resected (removed), with all the soft tissues around it,” Dr. Theodosopoulos said.
Two days later, Alisha’s mother said, “We were crying with relief. It was hard to believe that everything turned out so well.”
Indeed, a week after the surgery, Alisha was well enough to entertain visits from two television stations as she prepared to drive home to Kansas with her family.
She was also thinking about a productive future.
"I love kids with a passion," she said. "To help children in any way would make me happy."
Today, she isn't yet sure what area of nursing she will specialize in, but she continues to lean toward pediatrics.
Dr. Pensak said Alisha’s prognosis is “excellent.”
Said Dr. Theodosopoulos: “Alisha's prognosis now is great, and we hope she won't need any additional treatment ever. This tumor proved to be very fast-growing, and it is always unclear looking in the future. But I am hopeful.”
Hope Story Disclaimer - "Alisha's Story" is about one patient's health-care experience. Please bear in mind that because every patient is unique, individual patients may respond to treatment in different ways. Results are influenced by many factors and may vary from patient to patient.