Health Team

Veteran Survives Beirut Bombing, Brain Tumor

A war veteran survives a massive bombing attack, but found himself dealing with a battle of a different kind.

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CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. — It is always a relief when tests show a tumor is not cancerous, but even a benign tumor can do damage especially if it's in the brain. A man was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor several years after surviving one of the worst terror attacks on U.S. servicemembers.

In October 1983, a truck bomb struck a marine baracks in Beirut, Lebanon, killing 241 American servicemen and injuring 60 others. First-year Marine Emanuel Simmons was among the survivors. Simmons said he is a fighter, but he did not know how to strike back last December.

"My vision was going bad, and I was waking up with headaches," he said.

An MRI scan revealed the problem -- a benign tumor on the pituitary gland. It was bleeding and growing upward, pressing on the optic nerves that connect the eyes to the brain.

"Our concern wasn't so much that this was a cancerous tumor, but that if we didn't move quickly, he'd lose his vision and it wouldn't recover," said Dr. Matthew Ewend, chief of neurosurgery at UNC Hospitals.

Ewend said the pituitary gland sits just behind the nasal passages inside a small cave of bone. An ear, nose and throat surgeon gained access through Simmon's nostrils. Ewend broke through and removed the bleeding mass.

"We'll see the rest of this pituitary gland has just been pulled down by gravity and will be sitting back in a normal position," he said.

Simmons' vision was almost down for the count, but after surgery, it quickly bounced back.

"I think I'm at 20/20 again," he said.

Simmons said he feels much the same way he did 24 years ago after the bombing.

"I thank God everyday that I had the opportunity to be able to see again," he said.

Simmons is now a master sergeant and assistant coach for the Marines boxing team. Simmons' pituitary gland is still in place and functioning, but researchers said one can live without a pituitary gland with daily hormone therapy.


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