Grateful Patient: Alaina Axford-Moore
For roughly a year, Alaina Axford-Moore struggled to rationalize a curious set of symptoms.
She was gaining weight at an increased rate; her blood pressure was unusually high, and more often she found herself feeling simultaneously anxious and fatigued. At age 45 she had also stopped menstruating, a clue that led her primary-care physician to write off the problems as symptoms of early menopause.
But Axford-Moore knew there was more to the story.
“Things weren’t adding up. I wasn’t feeling well,” she recalled. “I had talked to other women who had gone through menopause and they all agreed that my physical symptoms weren’t normal.”
At the recommendation of a friend, Axford-Moore searched and eventually found an endocrinologist in Bryn Mawr who diagnosed her with Cushing’s disease, an ailment caused by a tumor or excess growth of the pituitary gland.
While she was relieved to finally have an explanation for her symptoms, Axford-Moore worried about what lay ahead. The pituitary gland is located at the base of the brain. If the doctor’s diagnosis was correct, Axford-Moore would need to prepare for brain surgery.
When her physician referred her to Dr. James Evans, the co-director of Jefferson’s Center for Minimally Invasive Cranial Base Surgery and Endoscopic Neurosurgery, Axford-Moore quickly learned that her initial diagnosis may not have been as accurate as it seemed.
“I went to see Dr. Evans and he said to me, ‘You definitely have Cushing’s disease, but it’s just not adding up to me. I don’t think this has to do with your pituitary gland,’” she recalled.
Dr. Evans referred Axford-Moore to Jefferson’s Department of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism where the co-director of Jefferson’s Thyroid and Parathyroid Center, Dr. Jeffrey Miller began a series of in-depth testing and observation with hopes of discovering the true source of Axford-Moore’s malaise.
After a month of CT scans, ultrasounds and MRIs, Dr. Miller discovered that Alaina’s Cushing’s was being caused by a small tumor on her lung, not her pituitary gland. According to Dr. Miller, the tumor had been causing overproduction of cortisol in her adrenal glands, a syndrome that can be missed in testing because it mimics obesity in many ways. Dr. Miller was certain that the tiny tumor was the cause of Axford-Moore’s physical and emotional symptoms, so he referred her to Dr. Scott Cowan in Jefferson’s Thoracic Surgery Program to have it removed.
After the surgery, both Dr. Miller and Axford-Moore knew the riddle had been solved. Only three days after the surgery Dr. Miller noted that Axford-Moore’s face was noticeably slimmer and her symptoms had begun to subside.
Having had her fears about her health problems quelled and her disease now cured, Axford-Moore says she’s feeling better than ever and has big plans for how she’ll maximize her new lease on life.
“I’ve lost 60 pounds since the tumor was removed. Dr. Evans saved me from unnecessary brain surgery and when I met Dr. Miller and told him my story, I felt relieved that he was going to try and figure this out. It was really relieving to know that they really had my best interest at heart,” she said.
“After being ill and getting well, I feel like I have a second chance with my life. So I went back to school for medical coding and billing, something I’ve always wanted to do. When I think about my doctors and how they really worked hard to save me, I feel like I owe it to myself and to them to take care of myself and get the best out of my life.”