Breathing Easy

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Patient Care

For almost a year, Stephanie Franz, 53-years-old and happily married, fought sinus problems. At first, she thought it was allergies or a cold that caused her stuffy nose and frequent headaches. In hopes of relief from her symptoms, Stephanie tried everything from nasal sprays to over-the-counter allergy medication.

When Stephanie was in for a routine appointment with her rheumatologist, she shared her frustration about her sinus problems. He recommended she see an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist and referred her to Michael Cho, MD, FACS.

“At the first visit, it was apparent that Stephanie had some type of infection affecting her breathing. After a CT scan and MRI, it was determined that she was suffering from an encephalocele, a birth defect in the skull that allows the brain to prolapse into the sinuses,” states Dr. Cho.

Dr. Cho referred Stephanie to Christopher Thompson, MD, who is an expert in sinus and skull base surgery.

“Often with these types of cases, it takes a medical team to work together to provide the best possible outcome for patients like Stephanie,” states Dr. Thompson.

Dr. Thompson carefully reviewed Stephanie’s case and determined surgery was necessary. Stephanie was nervous about surgery but trusted her doctor’s advice.

“My doctors at MemorialCare Saddleback Medical Center explained that I had a hole in my skull and my brain was herniating through my sinus. No wonder I couldn’t breathe! I was thankful that they understood my situation and had no hesitation moving forward. They knew what to do,” recalls Stephanie.

Stephanie’s surgery took about four hours, and in the operating room, Dr. Cho and Dr. Thompson were assisted by Jason A. Liauw, MD, neurosurgeon.

“Our unparalleled team has extensive academic training. It’s our collaborative approach and specialized expertise in ENT that gives patients the best possible outcome, regardless of the severity of their case,” states Dr. Liauw.

Saddleback Medical Center and its expert team of specialists, offer a full range of ENT services including endoscopy for nasal and throat disorders, CT scans for sinusitis, hearing aid services, on-site audiologists and evaluation of sleep and snoring disorders, to name a few. The range of services span from treating minor ear infections to more severe cases, like Stephanie’s.

Dr. Thompson adds, “Sinus problems affect a significant amount of the population. There are medical and surgical treatments we utilize to help patients get better and improve their quality of life. Many surgeries are now minimally invasive, allowing for faster recoveries.”

Today, Stephanie is happy to easily breathe again and to spend time with her husband, and their American Staffordshire-Terrier, Keyana. She can now shift her focus back on to the things she enjoys most, which is planning her next RV trip to Julian in San Diego and spending time with her family.

To find an expert ENT specialist, visit