“The staff at UMMC literally and figuratively saved my life.” Paul Miller, 38 of Horn Lake, received emergent surgery at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in November of 2020 and he couldn't be more grateful.
In 2014, Miller was diagnosed with a pituitary brain tumor. He opted for brain surgery outside of Mississippi. He first received a trans labial resection, a procedure to remove as much of the tumor as possible through his nose, then received radiation to shrink what remained. Able to carry on with his regular lifestyle, Miller lived on his own, worked, and helped take care of his family with minimal difficulties for several years.
In April of 2020, Miller noticed that everything started looking fuzzy. Having grown, the remnants of his tumor began affecting his eyesight. The complications started with his peripheral vision. In June of 2020, Miller was declared legally blind.
“It was a shock to all of us. It affected all of us, not just him. It’s a thing to learn to embrace, but I might never wrap my head around it,” said Carolyn Miller, Paul’s mother. Forced to live with his vision loss, Miller also struggled with losing his independence.
In November of 2020, Miller had what he refers to as “an episode.” It started with an awful headache and weakness that caused him to collapse. All he could do was bang on the door. When help came, he tried to speak, but his words came out garbled. He was rushed to the nearest hospital but was unable to receive the critical care he needed. Airlifted to UMMC for specialized neurosurgical care, Miller found himself alone, in the middle of COVID, recently blind and feeling very isolated.
“He came to us completely blind, with a gigantic tumor that would kill him very soon if we did not operate,” said Dr. Marcus Zachariah, a UMMC neurosurgeon specializing in pituitary tumors. Zachariah consulted the UMMC Central Nervous System tumor board, made up of representatives from neurosurgery, neuroradiology, neuro-oncology, and radiation oncology, to form a plan. Zachariah performed a craniotomy, the first step in Miller’s treatment. Miller recovered at UMMC for two and a half weeks after his surgery.
“Even though the surgery went well, I was in a bad place. Visiting hours were restricted because of COVID, so the staff and everyone that dealt with my case really became a lifeline,” said Miller. “Being in a hospital is just icky, but through this entire process, I have discovered a new profound appreciation for medical staff. Nurses in particular.” When asked for specific stand-out moments, he replied saying, “The whole time was like playing the ‘greatest hits’ of fantastic people.”
Carolyn, Miller’s mom, chimed in saying, “I think they all deserve one of those DAISY awards,” referring to a national accolade for outstanding nursing.
Miller’s tumor is still lurking. The second step of his treatment plan took place in May of 2021. Dr. Zachariah and Dr. Scott Stringer, UMMC’s chair of Otolaryngology, performed an endoscopic resection to remove more of the remaining tumor through his nose. After both procedures, the team was able to remove 80 to 90% of the tumor, adding years to Miller's life.
As he grows to regain his independence and cope with his vision loss, Miller will further his treatment in Mississippi, utilizing UMMC’s comprehensive care approach. At UMMC, Miller will continue to see Dr. Zachariah and Dr. Stringer as well as specialists in endocrinology, and ophthalmology.
Grateful for the services UMMC provides, both Paul and Carolyn hope his story can help others who might be in the same situation. “A bad hand was dealt, but I played it poorly. I wish I had gotten the right help 6 months earlier.”