Harry Shields, a 58-year-old Hubbard, Ohio resident, is a race car enthusiast. He, along with his best friend from childhood, builds and maintains drag racing cars and frequently puts them to the test at the local track. “Cars are really my life,” says Harry. “I’ve been drag racing for 30 years and love every minute of it.”
But over the past decade, Harry had become severely depressed. At first, he blamed his personality changes on personal issues he was suffering through, including the loss of a job and the passing of his father and stepmother. However, the changes progressed and he began losing interest in his hobbies, and wasn’t interested in socializing with other people.
“All of a sudden I had no interest in working on the race car anymore,” he says. “And I began to lose confidence and didn’t want to talk to anyone, but I couldn’t put together why all of this was happening.”
Harry never thought that his personality changes could be related to a medical condition, but that quickly changed when he noticed that his vision was becoming blurry in his right eye.
Harry visited a local eye doctor for an exam, but he found nothing wrong. However, his doctor suspected that something could be pressing on the optic nerve and referred Harry to a neurologist.
Initially, the neurologist thought Harry might have inflammation of his optic nerve, and ordered an MRI to confirm. What they found was a frontal lobe meningioma about the size of a grapefruit. “I went to the appointment by myself. They immediately called my wife to pick me up because the tumor was so large that they did not want me driving,” says Harry.
The neurologist believed that Harry’s personality changes were directly related to the tumor, which had likely been growing for more than 20 years. “It was easy to attribute all of these changes in Harry to stress,” says his wife Deborah. “I started to notice this about 10 years ago. His behavior, his confusion, his lack of energy, his inability to concentrate. But now there was a real reason.”
The neurologist immediately referred Harry to UPMC and Dr. Robert Friedlander, Chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery. A few days later, Harry and Deborah traveled to Pittsburgh for the initial consultation.
Because the tumor had been growing in Harry’s brain for so long, it was so large that Dr. Friedlander described it as one of the largest tumors he had ever seen.
Tests revealed that the tumor was benign (non-cancerous), but it would lead to serious complications and even death if it wasn’t removed. Because of the considerable size of the tumor, surgery would be risky. But Harry and Deborah both agreed that the tumor needed to be removed to have any chance of getting Harry’s old life back. They immediately scheduled the surgery.
Dr. Friedlander was able to remove the whole tumor. While Harry was still recovering in the ICU, Deborah noticed an immediate change in Harry’s personality. “As soon as he opened his eyes he apologized to me for not being himself,” says Deborah. Harry is now back at home and filled with the ambition and confidence he had before the tumor changed his personality.
“It has been an experience, and there is a lot of regret for how many years we lost by not knowing what was going on. Now, every day is a celebration,” says Deborah. “Dr. Friedlander gave me back the guy that I married and fell in love with."
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.
Harry's treatment and results may not be representative of all similar cases.
Neurosurgery at UPMC: A powerful team approach
Dr. Robert M. Friedlander discusses the team approach to treating neurosurgical patients.