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Sharp Health News

When an eye exam detects a brain tumor

May 30, 2018

When an eye exam detects a brain tumor

Patrice Smith married her husband two days before surgery to remove a benign brain tumor.

Imagine having a routine eye exam and finding out that you have a brain tumor. Now imagine your wedding day is only three weeks away. That’s exactly what happened to Patrice Smith, a Sharp Rees-Stealy patient and employee.

It was October 29, 2016, when Patrice visited Dr. Gregory Steele, an optometrist with Sharp Rees-Stealy Otay Ranch, for a routine eye exam. The results compelled him to consult with Dr. Seema Sundaram, an ophthalmologist, also at the Otay Ranch location.

“As soon as I suspected something out of the ordinary, I was able to consult with her and bring her into Patrice’s care team without delay,” says Dr. Steele. He and Dr. Sundaram confirmed the diagnosis of a benign brain tumor and quickly delivered the news to Patrice before the end of her appointment.

“It’s always difficult to hear scary or uncertain news, but I can always reassure patients they are in good hands with our ophthalmologist colleagues,” he says.

In order for Patrice to receive the care she needed, her full team of doctors would also include Dr. Emelya Ahadian, internal medicine, and endocrinologist Dr. Neelima Chu. Dr. Sohaib Kureshi, a neurological surgeon with Sharp Community Medical Group, would also be brought in for her case.

Patrice’s doctors worked together seamlessly to assess her treatment options and develop a plan. They recommended surgery to remove the tumor — but time was of the essence. With Patrice’s big day just three weeks away, she knew the only way to keep her wedding plans on track was to wait to have her surgery.

“The wedding venue was set. My husband’s family had already booked tickets and were arriving from Ireland and Australia,” she said. “My diagnosis potentially would have turned all of these plans upside down, but my doctors kept my personal situation in mind.”

Patrice pointed out that some of her doctors wanted to do the surgery sooner. “Although I made the decision to wait to have my surgery, all of my doctors were very supportive. They made sure I had a voice about my care and stood by my choice on how I wanted to manage it.”

Patrice and her husband were married — as planned — on Saturday, November 19, 2016. She had her surgery a week later on November 28.

After her surgery, Patrice spent a week at Sharp Memorial Hospital during recovery, with her new husband by her side through this time.

“That’s where we spent our honeymoon,” she says. “The nurses and staff took such great care of me. They knew that we just got married, and it was the little things they did that made us feel like newlyweds — like making sure my husband could sleep especially comfortably during his stay with me. They also took time to set up the room so my 10-year-old son and I could spend as much time together as possible with minimal interruptions. It helped make the experience less scary for him. Overall, the staff were integral in maintaining a sense of normalcy for my family.”

In addition to a successful recovery and positive prognosis, Patrice had another reason to celebrate: The following February, Patrice and her husband found out they were expecting. They welcomed their new baby daughter, Constantina, into the world on November 6, 2017.

Patrice credits the quality of her care not only to her medical team alone, but also by how well they coordinated all aspects of her care — working together to quickly diagnose her illness; develop a care plan centered around her medical, personal and family needs; and ensuring that level of care was consistent through her post-recovery checkups.

“My doctors worked closely with each other, and also with me, to make sure we were all on the same page,” she says. “As a team, we put together a coordinated plan to make sure everyone was involved with what was going on. I was seen as a person, not just a patient.”

Today, Patrice encourages others to get regular eye exams. “They can seem insignificant — I went in only because I needed contacts. But, they can show you more than just your routine vision,” she says.

Dr. Steele says Patrice’s case is a prime example of how routine eye exams are crucial both in protecting vision and in detecting other conditions. “Patrice came in asymptomatic, but through our testing and fantastic specialists, we were able to find a problem before it became anything more dangerous.”

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