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Mystery Solved – and Resolved

Posted on February 7, 2020 in Patient Stories

Fort Sanders Regional surgeon removes rare tumor that affected patient’s blood pressure

Donna BlakeSeated on a hay bale next to a trailer covered with a checkered cloth, Donna Blake holds several ears of corn. It’s the farm stand where she and her husband sell the fresh produce they’ve grown.

She’s happy to be able to enjoy farm life again after her surgery at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center for an uncommon condition. Today she’s restored, able to enjoy her grandkids and the home she has shared with her husband for more than 40 years.

Unexplained symptoms

“Several years ago, I started having blood pressure spikes,” Blake says. “I would be walking or sitting and it would just spike.”

The blood pressure spikes and rapid heartbeat often came with a pounding pain in the back of her head. Surgeon Michael D. Kropilak, MD, says Blake was suffering the effects of a pheochromocytoma.

“She had a tumor that can give you significant hypertension, and it can make you feel really bad,” Dr. Kropilak says. “It secretes chemicals like epinephrine and norepinephrine, causing blood pressure to go up.”

Dr. Kropilak says many people who have these tumors are never diagnosed because the symptoms are so much like those of other conditions. Blake lived with the symptoms for almost five years.

A Minimally Invasive Procedure

Dr. Kropilak was able to remove the mass with laparoscopic surgery, a minimally invasive method of surgery that he’s used since 1991. In most cases, the patient can return home within a day of the surgery. Recovery is often quicker with minimally invasive surgery, too.

Today, Blake’s blood pressure spikes are gone, and so are the intense headaches that came with them. Her blood sugar has also returned to where it needs to be.

“He did it,” Blake says. “He got it done laparoscopically, it was a great success, and I was really pleased with his expertise.”

Dr. Kropilak says that Fort Sanders Regional offers many types of complex surgeries, and primary care physicians can provide referrals for patients.

Blake has very simple advice for anyone who may be suffering “mystery symptoms” like hers: “Just go to a good surgeon, like I did!”