For years, Peter Carvalho endured chronic headaches, personality changes and seizures—all caused by a low-grade astrocytoma, or brain tumor.
After an innovative surgery, Peter’s tumor and the related symptoms are gone—and he helped make a bit of Minnesota medical history in the process. Under the care of a University of Minnesota Health team led by Neurosurgeon Clark C. Chen, MD, PhD, Peter was the first in Minnesota to have brain surgery using the ClearPoint Neuro Navigation System.
Though health issues caused by the tumor greatly affected Peter’s day-to-day life and made it impossible for him to work, he did not want to consider an additional surgery. A previous brain surgery left him with speech and memory problems for nearly six months. When Peter was informed that the tumor had regrown, he initially declined treatment, even though he needed it. “I didn’t want to have another craniotomy…period,” Peter said.
Peter was referred to Chen, who is the chair of the University of Minnesota Medical School’s Department of Neurosurgery. Chen suggested a new type of minimally invasive procedure that would minimize the risk of brain injury and the need for a prolonged recovery. Using real-time magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to guide surgeons’ efforts, the procedure could be completed through a small incision only three millimeters in length. After meeting with Chen to discuss the procedure in detail, Peter agreed to the treatment.
Two technologies converged during Peter’s procedure: the ClearPoint system and thermal ablation.
“ClearPoint allowed us to perform the surgery with MRI monitoring, which gave us the ability to determine precisely where we were in the brain at all times,” Chen explained. “The ability to ‘look inside’ the brain through the MRI means we do not have to make a big incision or remove a portion of the skull, which are often done during typical brain tumor surgery.”
Using the ClearPoint technology, Chen strategically inserted a laser probe through a small incision in the skull directly into the tumor. After insertion, the laser was activated and neurosurgeons used heat energy to destroy the tumor. The real-time MRI imaging allowed Chen’s team to monitor the amount of tumor destroyed and to prevent injury to unaffected portions of the brain.
“I tailored my treatment to [Peter’s] needs and preferences,” Chen said. “Personalizing our approach to account for the specific needs of our patients is a core mission of the University of Minnesota Health neurosurgery team.”
Following the surgery, Peter felt reborn. “I was myself again,” he said. “I can’t even explain it. On the drive home, I saw everything differently. It was like a heavy, wet blanket had been lifted off me. It’s been an amazing experience.”
The tumor had caused personality changes, making Peter behave erratically. “I lost all sense of self-worth,” he said. After a brush with suicide last May, Peter decided to turn his life around. “I did a complete 180.”
Part of his transformation included meditation, exercise and self-discipline, which enabled Peter to reduce his dosage of anti-seizure medication. Leveraging a life-long passion for Japan, he started learning to speak Japanese and eventually met his fiancé through a digital language education program. He now looks forward to the future, and is “planning to do it right this time.”
“I was already in a mindset that made me want to live, if not for me, then for her,” said Peter, a northern Minnesota resident. “My experience after Dr. Chen’s surgery greatly reinforced that mindset. I am so thankful.”
Chen also has his eyes on the horizon. “The University of Minnesota Health neurosurgery team is fully invested in developing new, improved treatment techniques and transforming the spirit of innovation into measurable impact for our patients, just like we did for Peter.”