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Valley teen graduates one year after rare brain surgery

PHOENIX — A Valley teen graduated from high school on Thursday, nearly a year after having a unique surgery to remove a tumor in his brain.

In late 2012, Maverick Almendarez began suffering severe nosebleeds, shortness of breath and vision loss. Initially, doctors thought he might have been suffering from severe allergies, but an MRI and CT scan later revealed his symptoms were actually being caused by a large, benign tumor at the base of his skull.

“It would cause a lot of bleeding and I would just wake up coughing, blood on the wall (and) on my hands,” Almendarez said. “So I was always really tired when I went to school, (and) I usually felt like a zombie.”

The severe symptoms even forced Almendarez to stop going to school briefly, he said.

Everything changed for Almendarez though, when he sought help at Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix where a team of doctors, including surgeon Andrew Little, worked to remove the tumor by going through his nasal cavity.

“The advantage is that we don’t make any incisions on the outside of the face,” said Little. “Compared to the old technique where we made an incision from ear to ear and often had to, in essence, peel the forehead down.”

While going through the nasal cavity is much more difficult and not everyone is a candidate for that type of surgery, Little said, the surgery can be much less invasive and results in less recovery time and leaves the patient without external scarring.

One year after the surgery that removed the entire tumor, Almendarez said he is symptom-free and graduating on time from Glendale High School and will be heading to college. Almendarez said his experience has also changed his career focus and now said he wants to work in the medical field.

“Yes, this did inspire me to be in the medical field,” he said. “Ever since I entered high school it was either three things: engineer, lawyer or doctor…and then after surgery it was definitely being a doctor.”