John Fisher’s sturdy fingers guide a quarter-inch-thick piece of oak through his scroll saw blade. The 79-year-old master woodworker precisely maneuvers the fine-textured wood, carving small, intricate pieces for a clock he’s designing. “I’ve been working with wood my entire life,” says John. “It’s who I am, it’s in my blood.”
Inside his home near Washington, Pa., there are reminders of his brilliance behind the saw. A four-foot-tall replica of a church John visited in Germany sits in his bedroom. A functional Ferris wheel sits atop a table. There is such a high demand for his work that he often has to turn down jobs. But, nearly two years ago, John’s woodworking came to a standstill.
One night while John was watching television, he noticed flashes of color and a light haze in both his eyes. Thinking it wasn’t anything serious, he ignored the problem. But, the symptoms continued. He visited his ophthalmologist, who diagnosed John with cataracts. He underwent cataract surgery and the vision in the left eye improved immediately, but the vision in his right eye got worse. An MRI revealed a large brain tumor, pressing against his optic nerve, and causing the vision loss.
He was immediately referred to Dr. Robert Friedlander, Chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery. “When I first met with Dr. Friedlander, I was worried and nervous, but then he looked right at me and said, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll get it.’ I knew right then that I trusted him with my life.”
Dr. Friedlander and his team removed the tumor. “Because of the size and location of the tumor and how it critically placed pressure on the optic nerve and displaced the most important arteries going into the brain, we had to very carefully plan and execute this complex operation,” says Dr. Friedlander. “We were hoping that with the tumor gone, he wouldn’t lose any more of his vision, but he turned around and surprised all of us.”
As John was recovering, his vision began to improve. And as time passed, his sight became clearer. “I’m so glad that my sight returned to where it was before this ordeal,” says John. “I thought I was never going to be able to do woodworking again. But, now I’m back in my shop every day, and I couldn’t be happier with Dr. Friedlander for making that happen."
“I went back for a follow-up visit, and Dr. Friedlander asked me to make him something, knowing that I was back to woodworking. And I said, ‘How about a brain?’” A few weeks later, John presented Dr. Friedlander with a detailed, anatomically correct wooden brain carving. “It’s beautiful and remarkable,” says Dr. Friedlander. “It’s very accurate. I might teach anatomy to my residents with this,” he says with a smile.
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.
John's treatment and results may not be representative of all similar cases.