Irvette Marte: Getting Her Life Back

Irvette Marte, 44, had suffered from frequent migraine headaches since she was 7 or 8 years old. As an adult, they got even worse, especially when work became stressful. She saw a neurologist every six months and tried dozens of different medication regimens, but to no avail. In 2013, she began having annual MRIs.

By 2016, her headaches disrupted her life: she was nauseated, had trouble getting ready for work, and on some days couldn't go to work at all. An MRI showed she had a pea-sized meningioma along the middle of the brain at the base of her skull. Her neurologist monitored it and advised her to see a surgeon if the tumor grew larger.

By summer 2018, the tumor was the size of a golf ball. That's when she was referred to Joshua B. Bederson, MD, the Leonard I. Malis, MD/Corinne and Joseph Graber Professor of Neurosurgery and Chair of the Department of Neurosurgery for the Mount Sinai Health System, and Leslie Schlachter, PA-C, Chief Physician Assistant and Clinical Director in the Department of Neurosurgery. “Dr. Bederson was very calm and confident, and he made me feel like I was in good hands," recalls Ms. Marte, a customer service representative for a telecommunications company who lives in Irvington, New York. “He said he does this kind of surgery every other day. I felt very secure.”

During a visit to Mount Sinai neuro-ophthalmologist Mark Kupersmith, MD, she also learned that because of the tumor's location near her optic nerve, it could affect her eyesight. It was also near one of her carotid arteries, raising her risk of a stroke. “I was so scared. My mother passed away from colon cancer just months before. I needed her to be there for me and she couldn't be,” Ms. Marte adds. "I asked Dr. Bederson if I could wait six to twelve months but he said, 'Absolutely not.'" She broke the news to her children, who were 27, 22, 14, and 8. Her older sister accompanied her to appointments and helped her absorb all the information coming her way.

Some of that information was presented through the department's Virtual Reality (VR) Brain Tumor Simulator. Wearing special VR goggles and guided by Ms. Schlachter, Ms. Marte was able to travel through her own brain digitally and see where the tumor resided. “I thought it was phenomenal. I had never seen anything like it before,” she says. “It made me understand the situation and the surgery much better. Dr. Bederson didn't use big medical terms, but was still able to explain exactly what needed to be done. Leslie was my backbone and reassured me."

With her family looking after the younger children and making sure things continued to run well at home, Ms. Marte came to The Mount Sinai Hospital on November 1, 2018 to have the meningioma removed. Her father flew in from the Dominican Republic and joined her brother, sister, and former husband in the waiting room, all there to support her.

Dr. Bederson usually removes a brain tumor in pieces. But Ms. Marte's grade 1 meningioma was so hard and dense that he had to work skillfully to take it out in one piece. He carefully dissected the tissue around it so as not to damage the nearby optic nerve or carotid artery.

Ms. Marte was able to go home on November 5 and recovered at home, enjoying the holidays with her family and returning to work the following January. While she still occasionally has some short-term memory loss, her headaches have abated significantly. "I'm more conscious of when and why I get them now, but most days are headache-free!" she exclaims.

She likes to work out, is in a book club, loves the beach, and returned to the Dominican Republic for a visit in January 2020. She's also changed her outlook on life. “I try not to let little things bother me or stress me out. My headaches used to keep me from doing the things I like to do. Now, I wake up every day feeling grateful that I'm no longer suffering from pain,” Ms. Marte says.

She is also grateful to Dr. Bederson, Ms. Schlachter, and the team. "All of my care was very well coordinated and accommodating of my schedule. The team was top-notch," she says. "I work in customer service, and they gave me excellent customer service — always calling me back right away and helping me with whatever I needed. They gave me my life back!"