For most people, occasional ringing or popping in the ear isn’t cause for concern. When it becomes persistent, however, Laura Castro Angarita of South Plainfield, New Jersey will tell you that’s a different story.
Laura, 36, originally from Bogotá, Colombia, had been dealing with these symptoms in her right ear for several months when she mentioned it to her doctor during a checkup. A hearing test revealed Laura was experiencing partial hearing loss on her right side, prompting a referral to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) doctor for further evaluation. Her audiometry tests came back normal, but her symptoms continued. That’s when Laura went for an MRI scan.
“I’ll never forget the call we received from the doctor a few days later,” recalls Sara Castro, Laura’s older sister. “He said he was very sad to give us the news that Laura had a brain tumor. Those were his exact words. We were in complete shock.”
The scan revealed Laura had a large vestibular schwannoma – a benign skull base tumor growing from the cranial nerves responsible for hearing and spatial awareness – pressing on her brainstem. The ENT advised them to see a neurosurgeon as soon as possible.
“We cried, then we got right to work researching neurosurgeons,” says Laura.
She was referred to the Gerald J. Glasser Brain Tumor Center and went to see Fabio Frisoli, MD, a neurosurgeon with Altair Health who specializes in skull base surgery, for a consultation.
“We had done a lot of research, but we also had a lot of questions,” Sara says. “Dr. Frisoli explained everything very thoroughly. We felt very comfortable with him. It was like we had known him forever.”
Given the size of the tumor and the pressure it was exerting on the brainstem, Dr. Frisoli advised that the best treatment option was to remove it surgically with a highly specialized approach. The procedure would involve creating a “window” in the skull behind the ear and using microsurgical techniques to meticulously peel the tumor off the nerves and brainstem without injuring them.
“The greatest risk with Laura’s surgery was injury to the facial nerve, which controls the facial musculature, because of its close proximity to the tumor. However, the risk of not doing the surgery was greater. If the tumor continued to grow and exert pressure on the brainstem, Laura could be paralyzed or lose the ability to swallow or breathe independently,” explains Dr. Frisoli.
After extensive discussions and counseling, Laura chose to proceed with surgery. Dr. Frisoli performed the procedure at Overlook Medical Center in conjunction with Dr. Kwartler, a neurotologist (specialist in ear surgery) at Overlook and Summit Health. Together, they meticulously removed the complex skull base tumor without any complications or injury to the surrounding brain tissue.
“These intricate skull base operations require extensive neurosurgical experience and a collaborative, multidisciplinary approach, which are core to the best-in-class care we deliver at the Glasser Center,” notes Dr. Frisoli.
Today, Laura is tumor-free, feeling good and continuing to have a positive attitude.
“Laura’s outcome is an example of the strength and experience of the skull base tumor team at the Glasser Center,” adds Dr. Kwartler.
“A simple thank you is not enough,” says Laura. “There are no words to explain how grateful we are to Dr. Frisoli and Dr. Kwartler.”
About Altair Health
Altair Health is leading the way in game-changing spine, brain and neurovascular care. Together, a team of physicians and clinicians from numerous specialties are leveraging the power of integrated, evidence-based care – and guiding patients through every step of their treatment – to improve outcomes. Visit AltairHealth.com or call 833.4 ALTAIR (833.425.8247).