Carol S., Bozeman, MT
I can heartily endorse the quality of service and care I received while I was a patient of Dr. Shahinian of the Skull Base Institute. But of more importance, I can also relate to you an experience that I had with another doctor concerning Dr. Shahinian that I believe may be relevant to any potential patient.
Dr. Shahinian removed a 4cm pituitary tumor from my skull. That is a very large tumor, or macroadenoma. It involved my optic nerves, sinus cavity and my carotid arteries, therefore effecting both sight and balance. While this is a serious medical condition for anyone, perhaps it is particularly problematic for a patient who lives like I do, as I do, in Montana, far from this country’s most respected medical centers. A few weeks before I had never heard of the word “adenoma.” I soon learned that I would have to become an expert on tumors very quickly, or at least learn enough to make an intelligent decision regarding my care.
I was offered three surgical options, ranging from Medieval to Space Age.
The first option was offered by a surgeon in Billings, Montana – the medical center for my area of the country. I asked him the standard questions. “How many surgeries of this type have you done? What is your success rate? Who trained you and what is your technique?” This surgeon passed with flying colors. Then he asked me to raise the hand with which I wrote, so that when he made a “golf-ball-sized hole in my skull and gently lifted the brain to approach the tumor,” he wouldn’t paralyze my writing hand! He proposed a traditional craniotomy, a technique used to treat pituitary patients many years ago. I was scared to death after that consultation, but had done enough research to know that there were other options. I quickly set off to find them.
My second option was a very fine neurosurgeon at a major medical center in the Pacific Northwest. I sent off copies of my MRI and booked a surgery within two weeks. I spoke to the surgeon’s booking secretary frequently and left many unreturned messages asking to speak with the surgeon. I learned from the team’s Web page that they used a transsphenoidal approach. The booking secretary said I should be prepared for a lumbar drain and nasal packing “which is only painful for a few days.” I made my appointment but continued to look.
I found Dr. Shahinian by lurking on every pituitary tumor board I could find. His name came up frequently among those in the fraternity of pit patients, of which I was now a reluctant member. I decided to come out from lurking mode and ask the people on the pituitary boards what they would do. Several gave me their e-mail addresses and phone numbers. I spoke to them at length and decided that I would travel to Los Angeles to meet Dr. Shahinian personally. While I was skeptical about “minimally invasive brain surgery,” I felt I had to consider it and was able to schedule a surgery with Dr. Shahinian. I cancelled my Northwest surgery the same day.
I visited my lawyer to sign a Living Will. While there, my cell phone rang. It was the endocrinologist who works with the Northwest surgeon. He asked me why I cancelled, where I was going and why. I told him that I would be more comfortable with an endoscopic approach, and he became very angry. “You have made a bad decision,” he said. “We fix his botched surgeries. If you have to have an endoscopic approach, I can recommend other surgeons besides Dr. Shahinian.” The conversation escalated. This would make anyone upset, but it was particularly upsetting to someone whose health was as impaired as mine was at the time.
My lawyer overheard the conversation. He advised me that he believed the endocrinologist’s behavior was unethical, and he recommended that I report him. I chose not to do so, but I did raise the issue with Dr. Shahinian when I met with him. Dr. Shahinian was professional in his response, as the endocrinologist had not been. He said he had heard these claims before and the only thing he could do in response was to deliver the best care he could to his patients. And that’s exactly what he did for me.
My surgery with Dr. Shahinian was a resounding success. I found Dr. Shahinian to be a professional, thorough, and confident perfectionist, not to mention caring and personable with his patients and their families – all qualities one looks for in a brain surgeon.
And as proof of how non-invasive his technique is, just a few hours after having a 4cm tumor removed, I watched the Lakers get beat in the NBA playoffs, which was much more painful than my head wounds. Four days after my surgery, I toured Getty Museum. Two weeks later and I was back to work. My co-workers could not imagine that I’d recently had brain surgery. I am a miracle and I have Dr. Shahinian to thank for that.
I hope that my story assures you not only of Dr. Shahinian’s excellence, but also of the value the endoscopic technique offers to pituitary patients. While Dr. Shahinian is not the only surgeon in the country to use this technique, he is one of its masters. He has helped scores of us return to productive and healthy lives. I am glad that he continues to go out of his way to help future pituitary patients.
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