Balancing Quality of Life with Excellent Patient Care

In 2019, Alyson Allen learned she had an acoustic neuroma, a rare, noncancerous brain tumor also known as a vestibular schwannoma. While not life-threatening, an acoustic neuroma can cause severe hearing impairment and affect balance.

The tumor was first identified during an MRI performed for another reason, so her doctors did not know how long it had been developing. This also meant there was no point of reference for growth rate. What they did know is that they wanted to treat it with as little disturbance to her brain as possible.

Alyson began researching doctors and hospitals. She chose The Valley Hospital because she knew of their reputation for excellent patient care, and she was intrigued by Gamma Knife as a potential form of treatment for her tumor.

At an initial consultation, Alyson met with Anthony D’Ambrosio, M.D., Co-Medical Director of Valley’s Gamma Knife Center. “Dr. D’Ambrosio was very clear and specific about Gamma Knife – what it could do and his opinion of its use in my case. Obviously, his primary concern was safely treating my tumor, but he was also concerned about potential side effects and my quality of life,” Alyson shared.

Gamma Knife is an advanced form of radiation therapy that uses beams of high-dose gamma radiation to target a specific area without disturbing the brain. Because it is minimally invasive, it doesn’t have the same risks associated with traditional brain surgery and has a minimal recovery period.

Alyson’s procedure was a success. With acoustic neuromas, the goal is to stop tumor growth. The procedure won’t shrink it or remove it completely, but if it doesn’t grow, it’s considered a success. She was given a follow-up plan that includes several appointments and MRI’s. At her one-year, follow-up MRI, Alyson learned that the tumor unexpectedly shrunk, and her second follow-up showed that it retracted from the brain stem, which is the best possible outcome. She will continue with follow-up MRI’s and hearing tests for several years.

A caring manner was important to Alyson, and the staff did not disappoint. “The entire staff was amazing. Kelly was one of my nurses, and she always answered any questions and would tell me to ‘keep them coming’ and that if she couldn’t answer that moment, she would make sure she would,” Alyson said. “Dr. D’Ambrosio spent over an hour on the phone with me one day going through every single concern and question and never made me feel that there was anything I couldn’t ask. The entire Valley staff felt like friends.”

For those who are facing a condition where Gamma Knife is an option, Alyson strongly encourages doing your research. “The brain is obviously important, and every doctor and program has unique resources and approaches. Read about what other patients have gone through and pay attention to how much time your doctor is willing to spend with you.”

The Gamma Knife Center reaches out to Alyson every anniversary and even asks about her kids. “They have been so attentive and responsive and have always made me, and continue to make me, feel comfortable,” she added.