When Travis Stangroom, an active 14-year-old from Ruffs Dale, Pa., was being tested at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC for what was likely a viral illness, doctors found something unexpected. Scans showed a small but potentially troubling brain tumor that doctors suspected was a juvenile pilocytic astrocytoma (JPA). Because of the tumor’s small size, benign appearance, and location deep in the brain, pediatric neurosurgeons at Children’s Hospital recommended that they monitor the tumor closely through regularly scheduled MRI scans. If they saw clear-cut evidence of tumor growth, they would need to intervene to prevent potentially debilitating symptoms. Brain surgery in the future remained a distinct possibility for Travis.
Travis returned to Children’s Hospital for a series of MRIs that, over a period of months, revealed the tumor’s slow but steady growth. The time for surgery was at hand. Travis’ tumor was located deep inside the cerebellum near the brain stem, which made surgery particularly challenging. The possible side effects of surgery in this difficult-to-reach portion of the brain were troubling: brain swelling, facial tics, balance and coordination problems, weakness, and even coma.
Using minimally invasive Neuroendoport® Surgery pioneered at UPMC and performed for the first time at Children’s Hospital, neurosurgeons reached the tumor through a tiny incision behind Travis’ ear. The Neuroendoport served as a guide, allowing the complete removal of the tumor with minimal trauma to surrounding tissue. “It was the safest way to remove the tumor,” explains Travis. “If they would have hit another part of my brain, there could have been facial twitches and hand problems.”
Travis was released from the hospital within three days. He rapidly bounced back to normal activity after working briefly with a physical therapist. While he was a patient at Children’s, Travis made a new friend, Troy Polamalu of the Pittsburgh Steelers, whom he met while the All-Pro safety was visiting patients. Polamalu called Travis periodically to check on his progress. “It was always exciting to see ‘Polamalu, Troy’ on our caller ID,” says Travis’ mom, Amy. “He always seemed to call just when Travis needed a lift.” Travis has started his freshman year at Yough High School, with a clean slate — and no brain tumor. “Everyone knew me as the kid with the tumor, and I just wanted that over with. I’m glad I can get back to normal,” says Travis.
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.
Travis' treatment and results may not be representative of all similar cases.
This animation illustrates the removal of a metastasis using the Neuroendoport technique.