Following a 10-hour surgery at the University’s C.S. Mott Children’s and Women’s Hospital, then-6-year-old patient Samantha Provenzano set her sights on one thing — getting back to the playground.
After being diagnosed with a benign brain tumor early last spring, Samantha, now 7 years old, underwent a successful surgery at Mott to prevent future cranial nerve damage.
Samantha’s mother, Lee Ann Provenzano, said a problem with her daughter’s hearing indirectly led to the discovery of the tumor. After taking a routine hearing test in kindergarten, it was discovered that Samantha had hearing loss in one ear. After receiving the news, Lee Ann and her husband Bud sought a second opinion at the University of Michigan Health System.
The University Hospital’s Department of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery, which has been open for 107 years, performed more than 5,180 surgeries and received more than 60,000 patients in 2010, according to the department’s website.
The family met with Marci Lesperance, a pediatric otolaryngologist at UMHS, who immediately recommended that Samantha receive a CT scan.
“On her hospital hearing test, it was suggested to me that there might be something going on other than just a routine ear infection or something else in the ear,” Lesperance said.
Lesperance found that an enlarged vestibular aqueduct between the inner ear and the skull was causing Samantha’s hearing problem. But the CT scan also unveiled another, unrelated problem: a mass had developed on the left side of Samantha’s brain. Though the tumor was benign, Lesperance said doctors decided to operate before it could grow any further.
“Sometimes the neurosurgeon will just watch (a tumor), but if it’s something that has a risk to grow bigger, or if there would be too many side effects from it … a patient would want to get a biopsy,” she said.
At this point in her daughter’s prognosis, Lee Ann said her mind was working at “100 miles an hour.”
“I was wondering if (the diagnosis) was a mistake … or possibly life threatening,” she said.
In the weeks preceding Samantha’s surgery with Cormac Maher, a pediatric neurosurgeon at UMHS, Lee Ann said Samantha was surprisingly courageous despite her parents’ anxiety.
“She knew she was going to the hospital, she knew she was going to get stitches and she knew she was going to get as many popsicles as she wanted,” Lee Ann said. “She was excited to show off her scar.”
Lee Ann recalled that the surgery yielded a quick recovery. After a four-day stay at Mott, Lee Ann said her daughter returned to school three weeks later and resumed her day-to-day activities.
According to Lee Ann, her daughter’s resilience has allowed her to transition back to a mostly normal life. Having dealt primarily with child patients, Lesperance said children are especially adept at coping with illness.
“They want to be healthy. They want to go play,” she said. “They really bounce back.”
Though Lesperance will continue seeing Samantha periodically over the next few years, Lee Ann said Samantha’s health is stable. She added that, more importantly, her daughter’s spirits are high.
“I’m just so happy that even with her hearing loss, it hasn’t affected her self-confidence,” Lee Ann said. “She’s just an all-American kid.”
Samantha has even turned her hearing problem into a fashion statement, her mother said.
“She has very cool, groovy, bright blue hearing aids,” Lee Ann said.