On the 16th of December, her husband's birthday, Loralee Ah Mu woke up feeling like she was having a stroke. Her head felt full of dizziness she couldn't shake off. Immediately, she knew something was wrong and was rushed to the ER. The doctors found a benign tumor in the right side of her brain. Loralee was diagnosed with acoustic neuroma – a rare condition where a tumor develops in the inner ear to the brain, causing hearing loss and imbalance.
Before her diagnosis, Loralee would sometimes experience facial palsy or a strong ringing in her ears, but never knew what the cause was. "Being a stay-at-home mother of six, I would think maybe this is something normal," she says. Her primary care doctor mistook these symptoms for an ear infection and gave her steroid shots. Another doctor misdiagnosed her with Meniere's disease – an inner ear disorder that causes vertigo. However, none of the treatments seemed to work. Since her symptoms came and went, and the disease was so rare, Loralee felt relief when she was finally diagnosed in the ER, but she knew the journey to recovery would not be simple.
Loralee needed both a neurosurgeon and an otolaryngologist to work on the procedure to remove the tumor. A doctor in Provo recommended she see the skull base tumor team at University of Utah Health. The team of specialists had performed this complicated surgery, a procedure that came with extreme risks such as damaging facial nerve functions or hearing abilities. "The fact that he even had a pamphlet on [acoustic neuroma] in his office, that made me feel a little more confident," she says. Working with two doctors on busy scheduling and insurance matters, Loralee was finally able to schedule her procedure three months post-diagnosis.
William Couldwell, MD, PhD, a neurosurgeon at U of U Health, and a U of U Health otolaryngologist, along with their teams, performed the surgical removal of the tumor. After the eight-hour long procedure, the nurses would consistently wake Loralee up to make sure she was conscious and cognitive. Waking up, she already felt alleviated. Although Loralee did lose her hearing on her right side, she says this hardly affects her daily life. "I feel like I'm not inhibited in any way," she says.
Loralee had a huge support system beside her, from her family to her neighbors and church members. "There was an excellent team of doctors and nurses that took care of me from the check-in to the end of my surgery, everything was streamlined," she says.