A Murfreesboro husband and father of four lived out his Disney dreams in Florida to celebrate his 50th birthday after successful surgery on a brain tumor.
Brian Toungette and the doctors who treated him had a reunion using Zoom for an early birthday call last week.
Toungette, who turned 50 on March 24, received the first inkling that he had a large tumor pressing down on his optic nerve during a not-so-routine optometry visit. He said he began experiencing headaches, dizziness and vision issues during the summer of 2018, and his primary care physician referred him to a neurologist.
“We just couldn’t track down what the issue was,” said Toungette, who was receiving treatment for migraines at the time.
That fall, Toungette accompanied one of his daughters to her eye doctor appointment, when he asked if the optometrist could squeeze in a quick exam of his own eyes before closing time.
He told the optometrist that his recent glasses prescription was no longer effective. The sudden change in vision raised concern for the doctor, who found hemorrhaging in his retinas and swelling of the optic nerves.
“She said, ‘You need to see an ophthalmologist right away,’ ” Toungette said.
Ophthalmologist Dr. Trent Wallace let Toungette know that his symptoms were most likely caused by increased pressure inside the skull. An MRI confirmed the tumor diagnosis that was delivered over the telephone.
“I happened to go out of town for a business trip right afterwards,” said Toungette, who works for Dell. “He called me, and I was having lunch with some of my colleagues, and he said, ‘Where are you? Can you come home right away?’ ”
From there, Toungette was referred to neurosurgeon Dr. Steven Abram and oncologist Dr. Kent Shih at Ascension Saint Thomas Hospital Midtown in Nashville.
Toungette said that Abram instilled “so much confidence” in him and his ability to overcome the health-related obstacles that had landed in his lap. His advice was to approach the situation with a positive attitude.
“From that moment on, I decided that I had already beat this tumor,” said Toungette, “I even bought a shirt that said ‘Brian: 1, Brain Tumor: 0.’ ”
Toungette was scheduled to receive 12 months of chemotherapy, but Shih was able to give the news that the tumor was dormant at the six-month mark.
“I was like, ‘What do I need to do now?’ ” said Toungette. “He looked at me and said, ‘Live man, live,’ and so I’ve lived since then.”
During one of Toungette’s quarterly scans last December, some irregularities were discovered. Abram and Shih teamed up to determine the next course of action.
Abram suggested that Toungette undergo a NeuroBlate procedure that would surgically remove the tumor with the use of laser interstitial thermal therapy, a method used to heat the tissue and produce an immediate diagnosis, according to Abram.
Doctors were looking to see if the new growth was that of a “viable, transformed tumor” or just an effect of the treatment Toungette had previously received.
“This intervention, all done at the same setting through the size of a straw, … we were able to completely ablate that tissue, and (Toungette) got to go home the following morning,” Abram said.
Toungette was the 100th patient at the hospital to receive this treatment, according to Abram.
Toungette kicked off his early birthday plans with his wife, Katie, and their children after passing a physical exam. He and his family had received their COVID-19 vaccinations, and he said they felt safe to travel to Disney World to indulge in seven Space Mountain rides.
“I feel great going into the summer. I’m ready just to keep living, as Dr. Shih said, ‘Live man, live,’ ” said Toungette, who encouraged others to schedule regular healthcare screenings. “You’ve got to be an advocate for yourself.”