At her daughter’s 12th birthday party at an ice skating rink, 45-year-old Betsy Alberts was looking after her daughter and her friends as they enjoyed maneuvering on the ice. All seemed normal, until Betsy observed an aura that she had never previously experienced. Simultaneously, she lost her ability to hear, and the world around her seemed to move in slow motion.
“I felt like I was in a tunnel, even though I was in an ice skating rink,” Betsy explains. “It came on very quickly. When I tried to talk to one of my daughter’s friends, I spoke like I was having a stroke."
However, the symptoms subsided as quickly as they came on, and Betsy pushed the episode out of her thoughts so she could focus on chaperoning the party. After several months, the symptoms returned. Because Betsy was otherwise a healthy, active and athletic woman, she remained unconcerned and decided to postpone seeing a doctor. It was not until she suffered a seizure in front of her husband six months after her first episode that she was finally persuaded to see a physician.
Betsy’s doctor ordered an MRI, which revealed a large benign meningioma, or a tumor of the protective linings of the brain. She was advised to undergo surgery as soon as possible.
After she received her diagnosis, Betsy began researching local neurosurgeons to determine where she should get her treatment. She ultimately decided to undergo brain surgery at UPMC due to the institution’s expertise in the area.
Three weeks after receiving her diagnosis, Betsy underwent a craniotomy to remove the tumor. But, because of the tumor’s size and location – atop Betsy’s superior sagittal sinus, the main blood vessel in the brain – doctors could remove only part of the tumor.
To further shrink the tumor, her surgeons recommended Gamma Knife® radiosurgery. The Gamma Knife is a nonsurgical device that directs gamma radiation to a precise area of the brain without damaging surrounding tissue. It is used to treat brain tumors and other neurological conditions.
“Gamma Knife has been a revolutionary technology, which has changed outcomes for patients,” says Dr. L. Dade Lunsford, director of UPMC’s Center for Image-Guided Neurosurgery. “The patient has the entire procedure done in a single day as an outpatient and can return to work the following day.”
Betsy opted to undergo this procedure at UPMC, as well.
“I did my research before having the Gamma Knife surgery,” she says. “I got information about various hospitals and their procedures. Knowing that Dr. Lunsford brought the Gamma Knife to North America and seeing UPMC’s statistics – that sold me.”
Eight weeks after her craniotomy, Betsy had Gamma Knife radiosurgery to further shrink the tumor and stop regrowth. She was nervous about going through another procedure, but the team at UPMC set her mind at ease.
“The staff’s reassurance took 50 percent of my nervousness away. You do everything they tell you to do, and you get through it in one day. I had my procedure on a Thursday, and by Sunday, I was walking with my daughter through the neighborhood,” Betsy says.
Ten years have passed since Betsy’s diagnosis, craniotomy, and radiosurgery. Because her tumor was not fully removed, she takes anti-seizure medication to ensure she does not suffer any additional episodes.
Following her diagnosis, Betsy’s priority became to lead an authentic life, spurring her to make major life changes. She moved on from her prior career in sales and now works as a freelance writer. Betsy has also discovered yoga, stays actively involved in family life, and volunteers at Family House, a “home away from home” for patients and their families who are seeking medical treatment at Pittsburgh-area hospitals.
“I felt reborn,” Betsy says, reflecting on her experience. “The worst thing that happened became the best thing. After my surgeries, I had more courage than ever before, and that courage only continues to grow.”
Our patient stories profile a number of patients who have had minimally invasive brain surgery at UPMC. Although everyone's care experience is unique, we hope that sharing these stories will help other prospective patients and their families better understand these procedures and their potential benefits.
Betsy's treatment and results may not be representative of all similar cases.