Fairfield teen ‘happy to be exploring the world again’ after rare brain tumor removed

Fairfield teen ‘happy to be exploring the world again’ after rare brain tumor removed

“I noticed I was losing hearing in my left ear in the fall of 2020,” she said. “My hearing just slowly started to decline.”

Seeliger, 16, said her friends and mom teased her about it, saying she needed to get her ears checked. But last November, other symptoms started to appear.

“I noticed my balance was progressively getting worse. I had Bell’s palsy in November,” she said, noting the facial weakness only lasted a few weeks. “November is when things started to pile up a little bit more. In April of 2022, I felt like I was losing peripheral vision in my left eye.”

Seeliger said her balance got so bad she could barely walk in a straight line or go up the stairs without gripping the railing. She also noted that she had been experiencing hip pain.

Seeliger said she was on the rowing team up until last fall, but was getting so fatigued that she would come home after practice and fall right asleep. She was so low energy that she would fall asleep in school sometimes, which was not normal for her.

“I definitely noticed my energy levels were off,” she said. “I had a hard time focusing in school.”

Seeliger said tried to live with her issues, assuming they would go away. It was not until her vision started to go that she knew something was really wrong.

After many trips to different doctors, it was discovered that she had a large tumor on her brainstem, as well as tumors on her spine, which were causing her symptoms. After a stint in St. Vincent’s Medical Center, she was admitted to Yale New Haven Hospital, where she had surgery to remove the brain tumor on May 27.

Dr. Jennifer Moliterno, the Yale Medicine neurosurgeon who performed the operation, said the large tumor on Seeliger’s brainstem was dangerous and causing a build-up of spinal fluid. She noted that type of tumor is more commonly found in adults.

“It’s incredibly rare in this age group,” she said. “Of course, we’ve seen it, because we see everything here.”

Seeliger said one of the doctors at St. Vincent’s Medical Center who read her MRI told her they needed to make a plan right away for the brain tumor.

She added they did not know about the other tumors on her spine until she had a full body MRI in New Haven in May.

The doctors at Yale were incredible, Seeliger said, and made sure she understood what was happening without overwhelming her with too much information at once. She said her parents were also very helpful, noting she had a great support system.

While she did not feel scared the night before the surgery, Seeliger said, she remembers feeling scared as they brought her in for the operation.

“There were so many people around me,” she said. “That was a little bit scary. I had never seen so many doctors in one place — all focusing on me at the same time.”

Moliterno said the surgery removed that tumor and alleviated the back-up of fluid, noting a shunt was later put in to allow the fluid to drain. She said there are a number of risks involved in dissecting a tumor on such a critical area of the body, but that the surgery went well.

She said Seeliger brought a “really beautiful attitude” into the situation.

“On our end it was about experience,” she said. “But on her end, we had a really great, motivated patient. She’s a really sweet girl.”

Moliterno noted that Seeliger still has facial weakness that will take a longer time to recover than other parts of her body.

Seeliger said she and her doctors have not yet come to a conclusion on how they will address the other tumors. She said she will have frequent MRIs to monitor them for growth and check for new ones.

“There’s, of course, chances, for more brain tumors to grow,” she said.

Seeliger lost hearing in her left ear permanently, but said it is not that bad and she is learning to live with it.

“I don’t know what exactly fully recovered means, but I consider myself fully recovered,” she said. “I am back to doing my normal activities now. I am doing a lot better than I was a year before surgery.”

This experience changed her perspective on life in several ways, Seeliger said, noting first that she had a lot more appreciation for doctors. But, she said, it also changed the way she thinks about how the world works.

“There are so many people going through things that you won’t even recognize,” she said. “I don’t know how long the tumor was growing inside of me, but you would have never known.”

Seeliger said she also appreciates the basic things she can do again that the brain tumor was impacting — like walking, hearing, working out or hanging with friends without falling asleep.

“Little things that you take for granted, but I’m more appreciative now of everything that I can do,” she said. “I’m almost like a little kid just happy to be exploring the world again.”