In the city of Lima, the capital of Peru, Elsa Arce was building her career as a psychologist. But with rising conflict among the people and a slowing economy, she decided to pursue her doctorate degree in the United States. Nearly two decades later, Elsa – now age 56 – is the Director of Counseling Services for Chatham University in Pittsburgh, and enjoys every minute of it. “It’s really a dream come true helping these students every day,” she says. “I’m really glad I decided to stay here. I’ve built some lasting relationships that I wouldn’t trade for anything.”
In October of 2012, Elsa was at her eye doctor getting fitted for new glasses and mentioned that she was having some cloudiness in her right eye. Her doctor thought it could possibly be cataracts or glaucoma, but after a series of tests, both conditions were ruled out. Elsa’s doctor continued to monitor her eye, and as the cloudiness progressed to the point where she could barely see out of it, he knew something more serious was affecting her.
Elsa’s doctor scheduled her for an MRI, which revealed a large meningioma, a type of benign tumor, pressing against her optic nerve. She was immediately referred to UPMC doctors Paul Gardner and Carl Snyderman at UPMC’s Departments of Neurosurgery and Otolaryngology.
Because the tumor was steadily growing, it would eventually cause Elsa to go blind in both eyes if it wasn’t removed. “I knew there was no way I could live like this anymore,” she says. “My job, my family, basically everything would be affected by this, so I knew what I had to do.”
Elsa and her medical team worked to finalize a date for surgery around an important milestone in Elsa’s life. “I had a date reserved to be sworn in to become an American citizen for quite some time, and unfortunately it was around the same time I needed to have the surgery,” says Elsa. “But the doctors worked around that and got me in for surgery after I officially became an American citizen, so it all aligned perfectly!”
Drs. Gardner and Snyderman removed the meningioma through Elsa’s nose using the endoscopic endonasal approach (EEA), which was pioneered at UPMC and allows for minimal disruption of the brain, blood vessels, and critical nerves. The goal of the surgery was to preserve Elsa’s sight, with the hope that her normal range of vision would return.
With the pressure relieved from the optic nerves, the progression of blindness in Elsa’s right eye was halted and began to reverse. “Almost immediately, I noticed my vision starting to improve,” she says. “It was amazing. I could barely tell that I just had surgery and I left the hospital without so much as taking a Tylenol.”
Eight weeks after surgery, Elsa was fully recovered and gained back the full range of vision she had before the tumor. As an accomplished artist, she was right back to doing what she loves…this time without the difficulties of painting with one eye nearly blind. “During this whole ordeal, I still painted, but with difficulties,” says Elsa. “My friends teased me a bit and told me my paintings would be more valuable, but I like it better being able to paint using both eyes.”
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.
Elsa's treatment and results may not be representative of all similar cases.