Leilani Pearl, 44, was otherwise healthy when the pandemic started last year, but it wasn’t COVID-19 that would cause her life to take a very startling turn — and into the hands of a team at Miami Neuroscience Institute  led by a prominent neurosurgeon.
Ms. Pearl, who is chief communications officer at the Parkinson’s Foundation , is very succinct when describing the onset of symptoms that would be diagnosed as a hemangioblastoma — a vascular tumor of the central nervous system which represents about 2 percent of all primary brain tumors and about 3 percent of all spinal tumors.
“The pandemic hit in March of 2020 and that’s when I started working from home, and I noticed a severe neck pain at first, then it turned into really debilitating vertigo and nausea,” recalls Ms. Pearl. “So that’s what led me eventually to the emergency room to get a brain scan and that’s where they found it.”
(Watch video: Hear from patient Leilani Pearl, her husband Jason Pearl, and Michael McDermott, M.D., neurosurgeon and the chief medical executive of Miami Neuroscience Institute. )
A hemangioblastoma is benign, or non-cancerous. However, it can press on the brain and cause neurological symptoms, such as headaches, weakness, sensory loss, balance and coordination problems, and/or hydrocephalus (a buildup of spinal fluid in the brain).
Michael McDermott, M.D.,  neurosurgeon and the chief medical executive of Miami Neuroscience Institute , is a world-renowned leader in neurosciences, with a clinical expertise in brain tumors. The tumor was located in the cerebellum, a vital component of the brain which plays a role in motor movement and balance control. The cerebellum is the area at the back and bottom of the brain, behind the brainstem.
“(Ms. Pearl) had a small, contrast-enhancing tumor with a big cyst in the cerebellum,” explains Dr. McDermott. “That’s typical of something called hemangioblastoma. There wasn’t any other option than surgery. In this case, we had to go through the risk profile associated with the surgery and the potential benefit.”
Dr. McDermott was very thorough in his explanation of her diagnosis and surgery, Ms. Pearl recalls.
“When we found out, they wanted to operate immediately,” she said. “Dr. McDermott came in and immediately talked to us through the whole process, explained what he was going to do and really treated me and my husband like we were human beings and we weren’t just patients.”
Ms. Pearl’s recovery has been challenging — but successful — over the several months since her surgery, says her husband Jason Pearl.
“What we learned is that it’s a process and it’s a long process and that you have to be ready for that,” he said. “Being able to endure pain and uncertainty and being able to just ride out difficult situations and get to the other side.”
Ms. Pearl is very grateful for the attention and care she has received from Dr. McDermott and his team at the Institute.
“I would recommend the Miami Neuroscience Institute for someone suffering from a brain tumor or another neurological problem,” she says. “Everyone at the Institute took great care of me, but more importantly, they answered all of my questions, which were many. I’ve met so many people who do not let a disease or an illness define them. It changes them, but it doesn’t define who they are, and I find that incredibly inspiring and motivating myself.”