Weight-loss Surgery Leads to Unexpected Discovery for Seaside Heights Mother

July 1, 2021

For years, 49-year-old Carey Backle had been plagued with a slew of unrelenting symptoms: high blood pressure, splitting headaches, extreme fatigue, a racing heartbeat and unusual sweating.

“I still had young kids and I just had no energy to do anything with them. I needed to feel better. I hadn’t felt normal in so many years,” says the mother-of-four from Seaside Heights, New Jersey.

Other than pointing to her being overweight, doctors couldn’t find any definite cause for her symptoms.

“They gave me blood pressure medication, but it just wasn’t working,” says Carey, who had struggled with her weight for 10 years. “I thought it was me being overweight, and that’s why I went to my next step in life with losing weight.”

Taking Control of Her Weight

In early 2020, Carey met with Silvia Fresco, M.D., a general surgeon specializing in bariatric surgery at Southern Ocean Medical Center. Dr. Fresco discussed the different surgical options with Carey and recommended gastric sleeve surgery for her. “Based on her body mass index at the time, she had a significant amount of weight to lose. The sleeve is a great option for weight loss without a lot of long-term side effects, such as vitamin and mineral deficiency, that bypass surgery can have,” says Dr. Fresco.

Carey was immediately impressed with Dr. Fresco’s expertise and demeanor: “She was professional and made me feel very comfortable. As soon as I met her, I knew she was the perfect fit for me.”

The pandemic delayed surgery for a few months, but in June 2020, Dr. Fresco performed a laparoscopic gastric sleeve surgery, removing a large portion of the stomach and leaving a banana-shaped tube. 

But during Carey’s surgery, Dr. Fresco discovered a tumor. “Everything started out being totally routine. As I was getting up toward the spleen, that’s where suddenly it wasn’t normal anymore. There was definitely a tumor there,” says Dr. Fresco.

Thankfully, she was able to finish the surgery without any problems. She ordered a CT scan followed by an MRI to investigate the mass she had discovered. These clarified that Carey had a 5.5-cm tumor on her left adrenal gland and that she needed to see a urologist for further treatment.

The Right Preparation

By the time Carey met with urologist Mark Perlmutter, M.D., FACS, in September 2020, she had lost about 70 pounds but was still experiencing the same symptoms that had plagued her for years. “I thought that with all that weight gone, I would start to feel better. But I still didn’t feel good at all,” she says.

Those symptoms, along with the large mass in her adrenal gland, suggested a pheochromocytoma, a rare tumor of the adrenal gland that secretes adrenaline-related hormones of the body. “It’s very uncommon, but Carey had symptoms that were potentially consistent with that,” says Dr. Perlmutter. He ordered a series of urine and blood tests, which confirmed the diagnosis. “It’s one of those tumors that everyone learns about in medical school, but most people never see in practice.”

The tumor needed to be surgically removed in order to alleviate the symptoms Carey had experienced for years and that were putting her at risk for a heart attack or stroke. But because the tumor secretes hormones, surgery came with its own risks. “Surgery could cause severe release of epinephrin and norepinephrine [hormones the body releases when under extreme stress], which could potentially lead to a heart attack or a stroke during the surgery,” says Dr. Perlmutter.

To minimize the risk, Dr. Perlmutter put Carey on a careful regimen of medications for two weeks before surgery. “This is one of those unusual tumors that has a very clear process that needs to be followed in order for surgery to be done safely,” he says.

Carey was understandably nervous, but she felt confident in Dr. Perlmutter’s hands. “I knew he was the right one to do the surgery,” she says. “I just felt comfortable with him.”

Better Than Ever

Using a laparoscopic approach, Dr. Perlmutter removed Carey’s tumor in November 2020 at Ocean Medical Center. Despite the challenges that come with this type of tumor, overall the surgery went well and Dr. Perlmutter was able to successfully remove the tumor and her left adrenal gland.

“The surgery was high risk, but we understood that going in, we made preparations before and during the surgery, and in the end, Carey did very well,” says Dr. Perlmutter.

Carey required close monitoring for a few days after her surgery before she could go home, but her care team helped her through it. “The doctors and the nurses were so on par. I just let them take care of me, and I didn’t have any worries,” she says.

Soon, she realized the headaches, high blood pressure and other symptoms she’d suffered from for years were gone. “I just felt so different. I could finally tell that I had lost 100 pounds,” Carey says.

Now Carey has enough energy to spend time with her children and enjoy the beach together. “We live three blocks from the beach, but before I couldn’t even walk there,” she says. “My life has changed. I don’t even remember ever feeling this good before, honestly.” 

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