When Surgical Excellence Creates a Storybook Ending

October 24, 2023 Providence News Team

For Connor Goodin, one of the most frightening moments was sitting in an optometrist’s chair and realizing just how little sight he had left.

When the 30-year-old first began noticing problems with his vision several months earlier, he had thought it might be related to getting older. But as he failed each successive vision test—able to identify only a few letters on the top row of the chart—the seriousness of his symptoms became clear.

When the optometrist said, “I don’t want to scare you, but I’ve only seen this one other time, and it was a tumor,” it was a conclusion Connor had already reached.

“As a young father, the prospect of blindness is absolutely terrifying,” explains Connor, a project manager for DPR Construction and father of an 18-month-old daughter. “Probably the only thing more frightening is when ‘blindness’ is followed by the word ‘tumor.’ ”

An MRI scan a few weeks later revealed a massive pituitary tumor pressing on the optic nerve. The tumor’s unusual size and complete encircling of the left carotid artery made the surgery both complex and higher risk—and as Connor’s vision continued to worsen, the chance of permanent vision loss grew.

Pituitary tumor resection involves working in a tiny bony space, called the sella turcica, which is surrounded by nerves, brain tissue, and major arteries—and most neurosurgeons don’t perform the surgery. So the search began not only for a neurosurgeon experienced in pituitary tumor resection but one skilled in the needed complexity.

A conference with neurosurgeons at an academic institution was followed by a meeting with Bradley Noblett, MD, a neurosurgeon at the Providence St. Jude Neurosciences Institute. Both hospitals offered the needed expertise, but Connor walked away from his meeting with Dr. Noblett with greater confidence and optimism. “His reputation, outcomes, and demeanor—calm, focused, and caring—was incredibly reassuring,” says the Placentia resident. “Dr. Noblett said I should plan on living to be 90, because he was going to get me through this. And the way he said it, you knew it was true.”

A team approach was used to remove the tumor endoscopically using a scope inserted through Connor’s nose. Working with Dr. Noblett was Jason Kim, MD, a dual board-certified surgeon in otolaryngology and facial plastic and reconstructive surgery, who is a St. Jude specialist in head and neck tumors and a pioneer in minimally invasive endocrine surgery. As Connor described it, Dr. Kim did the driving, getting Dr. Noblett to the tumor, and, once the tumor had been resected, safely got out again. After the minimally invasive procedure, Connor spent three nights in the hospital, the first one in the hospital’s neuro-certified critical care unit (CCU).

“Probably the best moment of my life was holding my daughter in the CCU,” says Connor, whose vision was completely restored by the surgery. “It was a miraculous outcome.”

Based on national averages and recoveries of similar tumors, Connor had told his employer his return to work could be six months. He was back at his desk in two weeks. “That’s the upside of having the right surgeons,” explains the construction manager, who says the experience affected his perspective. “There’s a greater joy over things you wouldn’t have even thought about before, a difference in your outlook.” And a greater appreciation for his wife Julie’s strength: “She was an absolute rock through every frightening moment—and there were a lot.”

Dr. Noblett, whose extensive experience in both complex and minimally invasive brain and spine surgeries includes hundreds of pituitary tumor resections, calls it very rewarding to help create a happily-ever-after ending for the young family. “To help Connor move forward with his life—being a father, a grandfather, and whatever else is in store—was a privilege,” he explains.

At some point in the future, Connor will likely need radiation therapy to remove the tiny remainder of the tumor that was too intertwined with the carotid artery to resect, a next step he’s taking in stride: “I’m in great hands.”

The Providence St. Jude Neurosciences Institute offers tertiary-level care for a broad range of conditions, from brain and spinal tumors to stroke, bringing specialized expertise to head, neck, and back conditions—whether simple or highly complex. Honored by U.S. News & World Report as one of the nation’s highest-performing hospitals in neurology and neurosurgery, St. Jude was also named the state’s top hospital for stroke: According to Healthgrades, no hospital in California saves more lives or creates better patient outcomes. In addition, the St. Jude Neurosciences Institute includes the state’s first recognized center of excellence in robotic spine surgery, allowing our neurosurgeons to turn back surgery into a minimally invasive procedure.

For more information on our Neurosciences Institute, call 714-871-3280 or visit stjudemedicalcenter.org.

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The Providence News Team brings you the updates to keep you informed about what's happening across the organizational ecosystem. From partnerships to new doctor announcements, we are committed to keeping you informed.

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