Jalen Brown, a student at Brookland-Cayce High School and a member of the Bearcats football team, was 15 years old when he started having headaches.
He took medicine, but the headaches kept coming back. “It felt like someone was hitting me on the head and inside my head,” remembered Jalen.
Jalen also was having trouble seeing. He failed a vision test when trying to get his driver’s permit, and at school he had to rely on friends to help him read from papers and the classroom board. Noticing him stumbling on the field one day, Jalen’s coach sent him to the school nurse who promptly contacted his mother. Jalen was in tears because he was in such great pain. He also was nearly blind. At Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital, an MRI revealed the cause: there was a large tumor behind Jalen’s eyes, on his pituitary gland, and it had hemorrhaged.
“It was like a punch in the chest,” recalled Jalen’s mother, Janis Brown. “I mean, he’s always been a healthy child.”
“I’ve heard of it happening to other people,” said Jalen, “but I never thought it would happen to me.”
Stanley Skarli, MD, a pediatric neurosurgeon with Palmetto Health-USC Medical Group and Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital, knew they had to act fast. He said, “Had this tumor not bled and had blindness associated with it, we would have considered treating this type of tumor with medication,” says Skarli. “However, because he was going blind, we knew we needed to operate.”
Janis recalled, “Holding my hand, Dr. Skarli explained that if they did not perform the surgery immediately, he was scared Jalen’s vision would be affected permanently.”
Pituitary tumors are more common in adults than they are in children. When they happen in younger children, usually a craniotomy (opening of the skull) is necessary to get to the tumor. In Jalen’s case, his sinus was large enough for the doctors to utilize a minimally-invasive approach to extract the tumor through his nose.
“I wasn’t so scared,” remembered Jalen. “I had my mom with me.”
When Jalen woke up from surgery, he was pleased to find that most of his vision had returned. He had to spend a few days in the hospital, but he had the full attention of hospital staff dedicated to helping him get better.
“Mallory, the ICU nurse, treated him like she was his mom,” recalled Janis. “Her ability to comfort him and help him be less afraid was incredible. When she told him everything was going to be okay, he listened. He fell in love with Mallory.”
Now back home, Jalen’s eyesight continues to improve.
“His vision is close to 20/20,” said Janis. “It’s probably better now than it was when he was 8 or 9 years old.”