Patient Stories

Four Hundred Sixty-Two Miles to Hope

Jul. 24, 2020

In a matter of just six months, Elizabeth Wilson went from experiencing minor hearing loss to becoming a brain tumor patient.

Elizabeth is from Trussville, Alabama, about 15 miles northeast of Birmingham. It’s there where she spends her work week as a payroll manager and her free time with her loving husband of 33 years, their two sons, their daughter-in-laws and as of this year, the newest member of the family, Peyton Elizabeth – the family’s first grandchild.

It was in the summer months of 2018 that Elizabeth began noticing that her balance was off. As time went on, her balance got worse and she began experiencing daily headaches.

As many parents would, she shielded her family from really knowing about any of her symptoms in an effort to not worry them.

“I really tried not to act clumsy around them,” Elizabeth said.

But in August 2019, she noticed her hearing had significantly diminished and by end of the year, she was experiencing numbness in her face. Even with dizziness, hearing loss and facial numbness, Elizabeth wanted to wait until after the holidays before making an appointment with a physician.

In January 2020, that Elizabeth went to her local otolaryngologist, an ear, nose and throat (ENT) doctor. “I failed my hearing test, so my doctor wanted me to have an MRI in order to rule out an acoustic neuroma,” she said.

An acoustic neuroma is a rare, non-cancerous tumor. It sits on the hearing and balance nerves within the inner ear. These benign tumors grow slowly over time and do not spread to other parts of the body.

“When I went back to my ENT, he told me I had a large tumor. I wasn’t shocked, but I didn’t know what to think. I just thought ‘why me’,” Elizabeth said.

Wasting no time at all, Elizabeth’s ENT doctor called Ravi N. Samy, MD, UC Health skull base surgeon at the University of Cincinnati Gardner Neuroscience Institute and associate professor in the Department of Otolaryngology at the UC College of Medicine.

Elizabeth’s local ENT physician was even taught and trained by Dr. Samy at the UC College of Medicine. Elizabeth’s physician strongly recommended speaking with Dr. Samy because of his internationally-known work, specifically in acoustic neuromas.

“My doctor called Dr. Samy from his office, and we all talked to each other that day,” said Elizabeth. “Dr. Samy was nice enough to say he would help, and I’m so glad we made that choice.”

With the unwavering support and positivity of her husband, Elizabeth went home to tell her sons the daunting news. “We got them together, and they both told me, ‘Mom, you can do it.’’ They have been great and have been there for me through it all,” said Elizabeth.

In March 2020, Elizabeth and her husband traveled 462 miles from Trussville to Cincinnati. There, they met Dr. Samy to go over their options. By this time, the tumor had grown, so together, Dr. Samy and Elizabeth determined that surgery would be the best route to take.

During that time, COVID-19 cases were sweeping across the U.S., putting a halt to all nonessential business, delaying elective, non-life-threatening surgeries and completely altering the way healthcare was delivered.

“Mrs. Wilson’s tumor was not immediately life-threatening,” explained Dr. Samy. “Because Elizabeth was potentially high-risk with COVID-19 due to her age, we wanted to make sure that COVID-19 wouldn’t be a threat to her health in Ohio or at UC Medical Center.”

After Elizabeth returned to Alabama, she and Dr. Samy began having virtual visits to stay current on her symptoms.

“Telehealth works great for me since we live so far away and going in for doctor’s visits was out of the question,” Elizabeth said. “Dr. Samy would set up the virtual visits for us, and I could ask questions, we would go over my symptoms and see how I was progressing. I would highly recommend this as an option if going into the office is not an option. It’s really like being there with the doctor.”

Telehealth at UC Health is a new and great option for patients who have a basic technology understanding and need to avoid travel, especially during the pandemic.

“Safety is paramount. The risk of getting COVID-19 at UC Health is incredibly low. But we still need to be careful in both our hospitals and society at large,” Dr. Samy said.

Despite not being able to be physically seen by Dr. Samy and his team during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the care they were collectively able to provide never wavered, and only provided confidence and hope that Elizabeth and her family needed as they prepared for the green light to schedule surgery.

“I’m so thankful for Dr. Samy. I could not ask for a better doctor. He really cares about you as a person, and I knew I could trust him,” Elizabeth said.

Finally, in early June, elective surgery restrictions were lifted, and Elizabeth was able to get surgery by Dr. Samy and Mario Zuccarello, MD, world-renowned surgeon and director of skull base surgery at the UC Gardner Neuroscience Institute and professor in the Department of Neurosurgery at the UC College of Medicine.

Elizabeth is now just over one month post-operation. Due to the size of her large acoustic neuroma and subsequent surgery, she no longer has hearing in her left ear. Additionally, she is working through some temporary facial dysfunction, but the surgical team expects complete or near complete recovery.

Today, Elizabeth is now walking without any dizziness and her headaches have subsided.

Soon, she is going to be fitted with CROS hearing aids to help with her left ear hearing loss. CROS is a nearly invisible hearing aid technology for patients with single-sided deafness. The sound received from the poorer hearing side is transmitted over to the better ear’s receiver.

Elizabeth’s recovery is still a work in progress, but with her family by her side and a compassionate care team she trusts, she remains hopeful.

“Overall, I think I am doing pretty good. I could not have asked for a better doctor and team. The whole experience at the hospital was great,” Elizabeth said. “I would tell anyone who is going through having an acoustic neuroma to choose UC Health. I just can’t say enough about how great they are.”