Matthew Carls was a typical 10-year-old boy who enjoyed basketball, computer games, and just having fun. But when he began developing debilitating headaches and prominent swelling in his face, his world began to change. The Flanagan, Illinois family visited many area doctors, and finally went to Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago.
There he was diagnosed with an angiofibroma (an invasive, noncancerous tumor composed of blood vessels) the size of a grapefruit. The tumor was spreading into his sinus area and pressing on his optic nerve, causing visual disturbances. Matthew's family was told the only way to remove this tumor was through a large craniotomy, with a lengthy incision through his scalp and the removal of a large piece of his skull. Both the doctor and the Carls family were apprehensive about proceeding this way.
The doctor told them of a revolutionary technique of removing brain tumors through the nasal passages, and recommended that the family visit the surgeons at UPMC.
Although Matthew was initially anxious about meeting "big-wig" doctors in Pittsburgh, his attitude changed when he met with the physicians. He found the doctors to be down to earth, and said that they explained every step of the procedure to him in a way he could understand.
Matthew's surgery took nine hours, which seemed like a lifetime to his mother, Jody. As her only child lay on the operating room table, the surgical team kept Jody informed throughout the procedure and tried to alleviate her anxiety. Jody says, "We couldn't ask for a better surgical team. They are godsends." She adds, "Everyone, from the nursing staff to the doctors, was there for us. The care was above and beyond what we expected."
Because of the type and location of the tumor, the surgeons needed to leave a small portion of the tumor intact. Matthew later returned to Pittsburgh for two subsequent procedures after the tumor began to re-grow. Matthew now has an MRI every six months to monitor the small amount of tumor that remains.
Today, Matthew is back to normal, playing basketball and baseball, as well as trombone in the school band. He has participated in the Scholastic Bowl at his school and made the Honor Roll.
Matthew advises anyone facing surgery to be courageous and to trust in the doctors. He says, "I've had three surgeries and I've lived to talk about them. It's amazing."
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.
Matthew's treatment and results may not be representative of all similar cases.