Teen graduates high school after brain tumor surgery

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by Christina O'Haver

Video report by Jason Volentine

Posted on May 29, 2014 at 6:53 PM

Updated Thursday, May 29 at 9:44 PM

PHOENIX -- About a year ago, Glendale teen Maverick Almendarez went to a clinic for nasal congestion, nosebleeds and shortness of breath.

Doctors initially diagnosed him with allergies, but Almendarez believed it was something much more serious.

"I'd wake up around 3 or 4 a.m. coughing up blood, spitting up blood. I'd wake up panicked," the 17-year-old said. "When I started noticing it more often, I thought it was a tumor or I had cancer."

He went along with the allergy treatments, but his symptoms worsened. At times he could barely see out of his left eye and became so dizzy he nearly collapsed.

He went to see Dr. John Milligan, an otolaryngologist, at Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix and had an MRI and CT scan, revealing a potato-sized tumor on the left side of his brain at the base of his nose.

"I was kind of shocked," Almendarez told 3TV. "I was expecting bad news, I really was. I knew something was wrong. I knew something didn't feel right. I was expecting the worst, but you can't really prepare yourself for something like that. I acted calm but really inside I was really scared."

A multi-disciplinary team at Barrow reviewed the teen's case and determined he was the right candidate for an endoscopic endonasal surgery.

With this procedure, offered at only a few medical centers around the country, doctors remove skull-base tumors through the nose rather than by opening up the skull. A traditional craniotomy involves making an incision from ear to ear and pulling the forehead down to get behind the patient's eyes.

"Maverick's tumor was in the perfect position to remove through this minimally invasive procedure," Neurosurgeon Dr. Andrew Little said. "The surgery has many benefits including a quicker recovery and a lower risk for complication."

Little said patients also experience less pain with the alternative surgery and don't have scarring on their foreheads.

"As long as they leave me pretty, I'm fine," Almendarez joked.

Not only has the surgery improved Almendarez's breathing, but it prevented the possibility of complete vision loss, personality problems and even death.

"These patients are usually cured," Little said. "They have an excellent prognosis ... and he should live a happy, healthy life."

Almendarez said although he isn't completely back to normal, he feels great and is taking a step forward every day.

One of those steps was graduating high school on Thursday.

"I'm grateful for this surgery because it has allowed me to enjoy my senior year as a normal teen," he said. "I'm so happy to have such a great outcome."

He plans to attend Glendale Community College for two years and then transfer to Arizona State University to pursue a career in the medical field.

"The surgery inspired me to go into the medical field," he said. "I have to thank Dr. Little and Milligan for the successful surgery, and I want to thank my family for supporting me in all of this. The outcome of the surgery was really a miracle."

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