GARDENDALE — A teenager is almost six weeks into recovery from brain surgery, and she said the experience has altered the way she looks at life.
This summer, Anna Montgomery, 19, developed worsening symptoms that were beginning to affect her daily life. She was blacking out, had debilitating headaches near her nose and eyes, tingling in her hands, weakness and extreme fatigue.
A visit to her doctor revealed that a cyst on the pineal gland region of her brain had doubled in size. She and her family had known for two years that it was there, but in most cases pineal cysts cause no symptoms and can be ignored. She said only 4 percent of people with the cysts have symptoms.
Her local doctor could not treat the tumor, nor could several other doctors she visited in the area. Her parents, Frank and Jill Montgomery, searched the Internet and found only three doctors in the country who perform surgeries on pineal cysts.
“We basically chose the one that could do the surgery the quickest,” Anna Montgomery said.
Dr. Hrayr Shahinian of the Skull Base Tumor Institute in Los Angeles could see her first; he placed her surgery on his schedule for July 18.
“I never knew how hard the surgery would be,” Montgomery said.
Immediately following surgery, she could not talk or walk, and the pain in her head was still debilitating. It was a side effect from surgery and was to be expected, but it was discouraging. She was also experiencing severe nausea, vomiting and brain swelling.
“It was debilitating, but in a good way,” Montgomery said. “It meant you’re getting better.”
In addition, Montgomery could not sleep. The surgeon had to remove part of the pineal gland in order to get rid of the tumor. The pineal gland regulates melatonin, which helps the body go to sleep at the proper times. She will have to take melatonin, which is available over-the-counter, for the rest of her life in order to help her sleep.