BOSTON (CBS) - A young New Hampshire mother almost lost her life to a rare, often misdiagnosed tumor. Thanks to expert care at Tufts Medical Center in Boston she survived to share her story.
"I was sick a lot," Elizabeth Craioveanu recalled of her childhood. "I was always nauseous. Had a lot of anxiety."
While her twin sister was generally healthy as a child, Elizabeth was not.
In fact, she was diagnosed with anxiety because doctors couldn't find anything seriously wrong. By the time she turned 20, soon after giving birth to her son, she was having frightening episodes more and more often.
"There were definitely times where I honestly felt like I was dying," she says.
She had trouble doing her job and taking care of her son, and weekly trips to the ER weren't providing answers. Then one December morning in 2014 Elizabeth woke up drenched. "My whole bed was soaking wet," Elizabeth explained. "I had felt very faint and weak and dizzy, and my heart rate must have been jacked."
Her parents raced her back to the E.R. but soon after arriving, she went into cardiac arrest. Doctors were able to revive her. A CAT scan finally revealed the cause of Elizabeth's lifelong illness - a tumor on her adrenal gland called a pheochromocytoma.
Adrenal glands normally release so-called fight or flight hormones, like adrenaline.
"If you're walking through the park and suddenly a wild animal approaches you, there are certain changes that occur in the body," explained Dr. Ronald Lechan, a renowned neuroendocrinologist at Tufts Medical Center. "Your heart rate begins to increase. Respiratory rate begins to increase," he continues.
When these hormones are produced in excess by a pheochromocytoma, patients often develop a rapid heart rate, headaches, elevated blood pressure, sweating, sometimes nausea and vomiting. In the most severe cases, it can be deadly.
Elizabeth was airlifted to Tufts Medical Center, recently recognized for its expertise in treating these types of tumors. Dr. Lechan guided her care. Given her severe heart failure, Elizabeth required a delicate balance of medications and, eventually, surgery to remove the tumor.
Now at age 27, she is doing much better. Her heart function is restored and so far, the tumor has not returned.
"This is a treatable disease," said Dr. Lechan. "We can make these people better. They have a life-threatening disorder. It's just a matter of recognizing it and taking proper care of them and really restoring them to full health."
Elizabeth says she is able to lead a normal, happy life because of the doctors and nurses at Tufts.
"I'm eternally grateful for them. They really saved my life."
Pheochromocytomas are not very common but are often misdiagnosed. Dr. Lechan said to think of these tumors if someone has periodic episodes of high blood pressure, rapid heart rate, anxiety, headaches, or sweating without a clear cause.
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