UVA neurosurgeon describes surgery to save girl’s vision

March 26, 2019
Courteney Stuart

CHARLOTTESVILLE,Va. (CBS19 NEWS) — A team of neurosurgeons at the University of Virginia is preparing to operate on a 14-year-old Kenyan girl whose eyesight is threatened by a growing tumor.

    “It’s a difficult tumor in a difficult location,” said neurovascular surgeon Yashar Kalani, one of the
    doctors who will perform the surgery on Mercy Nderitu on Wednesday.

She was diagnosed with the tumor at home in Kenya, but doctors there couldn’t perform the complex operation. Her uncle, Pastor Peter Chege, with help from fellow pastor and attorney G. Raye Jones, brought Nderitu to Charlottesville, hoping the experts at UVA could help her.

“That was the only place in the world that I knew she could get the care she may not deserve but needed urgently,” said Chege, who now has temporary legal custody of Nderitu.

Kalani, an expert in removing tumors from the brain stem and other areas sometimes thought to be inoperable, reviewed Nderitu’s medical file and believed the medical center’s multidisciplinary team, including neuro-ophthalmologist Steven Newman, could help.

The UVA Medical Center administration agreed to reduce the cost of her treatment from about $300,000 to $35,000, and surgery was scheduled.

In Nderitu’s MRI images, shared with CBS19 with Chege’s permission, the effect of the tumor is clear. Her right eye is being pushed out of the orbit by the tumor’s pressure.

During the surgery, Kalani says he will remove small pieces of Nderitu’s skull around the eye.

“That gives me access to her orbit,” he said. “It also gives me access to her brain, so I can chase the tumor all the way back where it goes and touches the brain and the optic nerve.”

The surgery itself carries risks including blindness and stroke, but Kalani says not operating would be even riskier.

“The tumor will continue to grow, and as it grows, first she’ll lose sight in that eye,” he said. “If it grows backwards, she can lose sight in the other eye.”

He says it could even eventually kill her.

Kalani is optimistic about the outcome for Nderitu. He says it could take days or weeks to see if any of her blurred vision is restored, and the tumor will still need to be biopsied. If it’s malignant, she will require additional treatment such as radiation.

He says her other symptoms including headaches and nausea should also abate, and her appearance should improve immediately.

“When you remove the tumor, the eye has an ability to sink back into place,” he said.

Chege says he and Nderitu understand the risks but have faith in the surgical team’s expertise.

“They are the best,” he said. “We are trusting that God will guide their hands to do the impossible.”

For information about a GoFundMe to help with Nderitu’s surgery costs, click on the link in the Related Links box.

Donations may also be sent directly to Faith Baptist Church, P.O. Box 6343, Charlottesville, Virginia, 22906. Please reference in check memo “Relief Fund.”


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