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“Please don’t let me go blind,” patient asks M Health care team

Safiyo Siad’s healthcare journey began when she was diagnosed with Cushing syndrome in 2012.
When an unusual pituitary tumor threatened 21-year-old Safiyo Siad’s vision—and her life—a collaborative group of M Health specialists found a solution.

Please don’t let me go blind,” was the heartfelt request of 21-year-old University of Minnesota Health patient Safiyo Siad, when she was introduced to Vascular Neurosurgeon Ramu Tummala, MD.

She believed her plea would be heard. “The first time I saw him, I knew he was a wonderful person,” said Siad. “I had found someone who could understand me.”

A native of Somalia, Siad has been on a healthcare journey that included clinics in Iowa and Minnesota. It all began in the spring of 2012 when she was diagnosed with Cushing syndrome, a condition caused by her body producing more cortisol than it needed. Her symptoms included weight gain, high blood pressure and fatigue. If left untreated, it could have been fatal.

But that wasn’t all.

“At work [in Iowa], I would get headaches. I was having vision problems. I didn’t know what was going on,” Siad said.

Doctors discover unusual tumor

Siad eventually learned that she had a massive pituitary tumor, which was the cause of her many unusual symptoms, including her ultimate diagnosis of Cushing syndrome. Siad returned to Minneapolis to be close to family. There, she was seen through the University of Minnesota Health pituitary treatment program by Endocrinologist Asad Saeed, MD.

Saeed ordered MRI and CAT scans, which showed that Siad’s tumor had affected several structures in her brain, including the optic nerve, which caused her vision problems. Saeed referred Siad to Tummala, who is a member of the neurosurgery team, and is an expert in skull base surgery to treat complex tumors.

While it wasn’t malignant (cancerous), the aggressive tumor was rare because of its size and because it excreted a hormone known as ACTH, which triggered Siad’s adrenal gland to produce too much cortisol.

“It’s very unusual for a pituitary tumor that causes Cushing’s to be this massive,” Tummala said. “Usually, they’re very tiny.”

Because of the tumor’s size, Tummala performed three separate surgeries on Siad the summer of 2013 —two through the skull (transcranial) and the final one through the nose (endoscopic).

“We prefer endoscopic surgery, which is easier on the patient,” Tummala said. “But the size and placement of Safiyo’s tumor required the initial transcranial approach.”

In addition to the surgeries, Siad underwent radiation and chemotherapy, under the direction of Oncologist Emil Lou, MD, PhD, and Radiation Oncologist Kathryn Dusenbery, MD.

“There were many people helping me,” said Siad. “I’m so grateful to everyone.”

Learn more about the University of Minnesota Health neurosurgery team.

“My life is almost back to normal”

The complexities of Siad's case required large team. Though she did lose the vision in her right eye, the eyesight in her left eye is fine.

“Safiyo is an example of someone who experienced a lot of turbulence in her course of treatment. It wasn’t all rosy,” Tummala “She stuck with it and she’s doing OK.”

Throughout it all, Siad maintained a positive attitude. “My life is almost back to normal,” she said. “When I’m doing well, I spend time with my family and help around the house. I have good days and bad days, but more good than bad.”

The pituitary treatment program that made such a big difference in Siad’s life was the inspiration of Saeed, Tummala and Neurosurgeon Stephen Haines, MD, FACS. The collaborative program enables patients with complex pituitary issues to be seen by multiple specialists easily.