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Healthy You

Healing Power: Redefining Pituitary Care

Monday, November 11, 2019 8:54 AM

At age 22 and living in the city, Maria Xoy should have been out having fun with her friends. Instead, she was at home on Chicago's North Side exhausted, depressed and embarrassed. 

At 4 feet, 9 inches tall and normally weighing in at 100 pounds—Maria suddenly began gaining weight without any change in her diet. In a two-month period, she put on 20 pounds and would eventually hit 150—an extreme weight for her tiny frame.

"There was a lot of weird stuff going on with my body," Xoy recalled. "I felt so ugly, my clothes didn't fit anymore and I just wanted to lock myself in my room." She grew increasingly tired, too. Even lifting a jacket off a hanger in her closet was overwhelming.

Woman Running

Unraveling the Mystery

Determined to break from her worsening health crisis, Xoy finally sought help from NorthShore and a new multidisciplinary Pituitary Center—the first of its kind in Chicagoland. The Center brings together a team of specialists from three distinct disciplines—endocrinology, otolaryngology and neurosurgery—to help patients with certain complex glandular conditions.

"We diagnosed Maria with a rare, cyclical form of Cushing's disease. Her body produced too much of the hormone cortisol for weeks, then suddenly the problem would disappear and her tests would normalize," explained Endocrinologist Jill Apel, MD. "That fluctuation made her diagnosis much trickier." The team determined that Cushing's disease, caused by an adenoma or noncancerous tumor in her pituitary gland, was causing Xoy's weight gain, high blood pressure, and even her mood changes and chronic fatigue.

Surgical Intervention

With the root of her ailment uncovered, Xoy consulted with a pair of talented specialists on the Pituitary Center team: Neurosurgeon Ricky Wong, MD, and Otolaryngologist Joseph Raviv, MD. Both surgeons hold academic appointments at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine.

"What intrigued me about Maria’s case was that her tumor was exceedingly small, and that presented a unique challenge because they can be difficult to reach," noted Dr. Wong.

"There also was a high risk that surgery could damage her pituitary gland, which could cause other problems in the future." Dr. Wong teamed up with Dr. Raviv for the intricate, minimally invasive procedure without a single incision. Using an advanced technique, they went through a nostril to reach and successfully remove the tumor. Today, Xoy continues to see Dr. Apel annually to monitor her cortisol levels and ensure that the condition does not return.

Total Team Effort

Xoy’s amazing recovery is largely due to NorthShore's unique team approach. Surgeons, endocrinologists and otolaryngologists share their expertise to offer patients a "one-stop" Pituitary Center—one of only a handful across the United States.

"Patients benefit from the structured collaboration of Dr. Wong, Dr. Raviv and our endocrinologists to treat complex pituitary diseases," added Dr. Apel. "Witnessing such remarkable improvement in patients like Maria is the best part of my job."

Nearly two years after surgery, Xoy is back to her normal weight and feeling healthy and energetic. This past summer she even traveled to Peru and trekked through the wonders of Machu Picchu. "I’m super thankful for the team that worked with me," she added. "They performed a miracle in my life. They gave me hope!"