Auburn student uses class lessons to help uncover his dad’s brain tumor

Body of the article

Auburn University student Rachel Ruhlin didn’t expect the lessons she learned in her audiology class could potentially save her father’s life, but that’s exactly what happened. happened earlier this year.

Ruhlin — a new senior from Eden Prairie, Minnesota, who is studying speech, language, and hearing sciences at the College of Liberal Arts — will eventually apply what she learned in the program to her career. But Ruhlin is different in that she has already taken what she learned from the classroom to the Mayo Clinic after setting off a chain of events that led to the discovery of the brain tumor of his father.

In class, Ruhlin learned about parts of the ear, the importance of hearing aids, and tumors like acoustic neuromas that can lead to hearing loss. Meanwhile, her father, Joe, had struggled with worsening hearing loss for years – speaking on the phone only on one side, hearing nothing said near his left ear – so Ruhlin urged him to make an appointment with an audiologist.

“Once I started taking these classes, it put things into perspective,” said Rachel Ruhlin. “My teacher was talking about how many people have hearing loss, and if you don’t get hearing aids, your hearing will only get worse. Finally, I texted my dad and said, “We have to go. I didn’t really give him a choice.

Originally, the date was just to test if Joe Ruhlin would be a candidate for hearing aids. He thought his hearing deterioration was just the result of aging, but after Rachel explained to him the many social, emotional and psychological implications of hearing loss, he was convinced.

Also, Joe Ruhlin said it would be interesting for his daughter to see a real hearing test, so he agreed to go.

“She strongly encouraged me to make an appointment while she was home,” Joe Ruhlin said. “And I think she knew I would go with her, partly because it was going to be interesting for her to see up close what an audiology test looks like, what a hearing test would look like and participate in it and to ask questions.”

During the first audiology appointment, Ruhlin was not surprised that her father’s hearing test indicated severe hearing loss on one side. The next step in the process was for Rachel’s father to see an ear, nose and throat doctor, who would perform a more comprehensive test, including ordering an MRI.

When the MRI results came back, showing a large tumor, Rachel knew exactly what it was: an acoustic neuroma, an extremely rare but serious brain tumor. It was one of the worst scenarios she knew during her classes at Auburn.

In Auburn’s Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences, or SLHS, program, all students must take Professor Sridhar Krishnamurti’s Audiology course, where they learn fundamental knowledge about hearing loss.

“This class teaches them what the field is, it’s our hallmark class in audiology for undergraduates,” Krishnamurti said. “Very few people, like Rachel, take it to the next level where they translate it to help their family. This is the first time in 25 years that I’ve seen a student affect their family’s future.

Thanks to this class, Ruhlin said she had a good understanding of everything that was going on.

“When we first went to the audiologist, I knew exactly what was going on with his audiogram and how serious it was because I had seen audiograms in class all the time,” Ruhlin said. . “Then we went to see the surgeons, and they were talking about parts of the ear, and I learned all about that. Before the surgery, I knew everything that was going on because we learned about this specific type of tumor in class. So if I hadn’t had those lessons, I would definitely have been a lot more confused and in the dark.

An acoustic neuroma, also known as a vestibular schwannoma, is a benign tumor that develops in the cells surrounding the nerves of hearing and balance. Common symptoms include hearing loss on one side, ringing in one ear, dizziness, and facial numbness as the tumor grows.

Acoustic neuromas are rare, affecting only about three in 100,000 people, but are at risk due to their proximity to the brainstem. Without treatment, they can grow large enough to compress the brainstem and be life-threatening.

Dr. Michael Link is the neurosurgeon who took care of Joe Ruhlin at Mayo Clinic, one of the best facilities in the world for the treatment of vestibular schwannoma. Link has seen thousands of patients with this type of tumor and says the longer it goes untreated, the more dangerous it can become.

“Even though it’s benign, having something growing in your head is a bit of a risk. And where that tumor grows, there’s a lot of important stuff, especially the brainstem, right next to it. So as as these tumors grow slowly, they can start pushing on certain critical structures,” Link said. “The other problem is that just along with the hearing and balance nerve, runs the facial nerve, which all muscles of facial expression. As the tumor grows, the risk of the facial nerve being injured or not working well after surgery increases.

Treatment options for a vestibular schwannoma include surgery, radiation therapy, and observation. Due to the size of Joe Ruhlin’s tumor, Link performed a successful surgical removal on February 16 at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

Because the tumor is so embedded in the auditory nerves, complete hearing loss on the affected side is expected when a large tumor is removed. Link said patients also experience temporary balance issues and facial weakness after surgery.

Link said that while acoustic neuromas are rare, any hearing problems should be taken seriously.

“The vast, vast majority of the time when people have one-sided hearing loss or one-sided ringing in the ear, it’s not a tumor. But again, it’s always worth getting it checked out,” Link said “It’s fascinating to me that so many people have hearing loss and refuse to get checked out. It’s a big issue for quality of life if you miss a lot of what’s going on around you.” So I think for all of our family members, we need to be vigilant and say if you can’t hear well, you need to get it checked out.

Over the next few months, Joe Ruhlin will recover from the operation and slowly regain his balance, content to know that the tumor is completely removed and he is at no risk of further damage.

Ruhlin said he was grateful his daughter had the knowledge to help guide him through the process.

“It means a lot that she helped me through this,” Ruhlin said. “I am very grateful that she pushed me to go see the doctor. It took encouragement, and she’s very good at encouraging me to do things. Girls can be like that.

“So I’m very grateful that she was in that audiology class at the time. She was talking to her audiology teachers, and they were confirming what we were hearing, so it was very heartwarming to have her support. .

Throughout the process, Rachel Ruhlin consulted with her SLHS teachers, who also worked with her schedule to ensure she could be home with her father at the time of the operation.

“The SLHS program was so supportive before surgery and during surgery,” she said. “I could just tell them my dad had an acoustic neuroma, and they knew exactly what it was. I didn’t have to explain anything, and people always ask me how he is. With the support of the SLHS faculty, especially being thousands of miles away, I couldn’t be happier to be a part of this program.

Krishnamurti said what really sets Rachel apart from her peers is her belief in applying what she learned in class immediately, from the first hearing test to treatment.

“All credit goes to Rachel because she was conscientious, she listened in class, she wrote it down and went home and took her dad to the doctor,” Krishnamurti said. “She made sure he went to one of the best places in the world and got the best treatment, and I’m sure he’s much happier today. It’s encouraging for us. , as faculty members, for being able to give her the information she needed to do the right things.

Despite encouragement from some of her professors to pursue studies in audiology, Ruhlin still looks forward to becoming a speech-language pathologist who works with Spanish-speaking families. She said the experience gave her a new appreciation for audiology.

“A lot of times you learn something in class and you kind of leave it in class, but it was so impactful that I was able to apply it to something so meaningful in my life,” Ruhlin said. “It will have an impact for years and years, because now the tumor is gone and he will be fine. What I learned potentially saved his life.

Angela C. Hale