A Cure for One Patient Yields Hope for Others

Two years before seeking help from physicians at The Mount Sinai Medical Center, Rosemary McGinn, 53, was diagnosed with hypoglycemia. She went everywhere with an arsenal of snacks and juices that she ingested frequently to keep her blood sugar from dropping.

“When my sugar would suddenly crash, it was like I was drunk,” she says. “I would become very combative, not knowing what I was saying, and sway back and forth.”

Equally unsettling were the results that came back after her check-up with Ronald Tamler, MD, PhD, Clinical Director of the Mount Sinai Diabetes Center, and Associate Professor of Medicine (Endocrinology, Diabetes and Bone Disease), at The Mount Sinai Medical Center.

“A normal blood sugar is around 100 mg/dl, and most people start feeling poorly when their sugar dips below 70,” says Dr. Tamler. “But Rosemary had a sugar of 20. That level usually leads to seizures and coma.”

Dr. Tamler diagnosed Ms. McGinn with insulinoma, a rare tumor of the pancreas that continuously makes insulin even when blood sugar drops too low. Under normal circumstances, the pancreas stops making insulin until the body’s glucose or sugar level stabilizes.

Immediately, he referred her to specialists at The Mount Sinai Medical Center, Christopher DiMaio, MD, Director of Therapeutic Endoscopy, who performed an endoscopic ultrasound to locate the tumor, and William B. Inabnet III, MD, Chief of Metabolic, Endocrine and Minimally Invasive Surgery, and the Eugene W. Friedman, M.D. Professor of Surgery, who performed a laparoscopic operation to safely remove it.

In January, following a 90-minute surgery, and a three-day recovery in The Mount Sinai Hospital, Ms. McGinn returned home, cured of her tumor and its life-threatening complications.

“Dr. DiMaio and Dr. Inabnet are my surgical saviors. I was in the hospital for a few days before surgery and they stopped by at least twice a day and kept me informed the whole time,” says Ms. McGinn. “And now I’m back to living my normal life. Mount Sinai promised me a cure and they delivered.”

The unusual tumor also represented a rare opportunity to study the biological mechanisms that produce insulin, so Drs. Tamler and Inabnet arranged for it to be frozen after it was extracted, and then sent to Andrew Fyfe Stewart, MD, Director of Mount Sinai’s Diabetes, Obesity, and Metabolism Institute, and Irene and Dr. Arthur M. Fishberg Professor of Medicine.

In addition, the tumor will become part of Mount Sinai’s Tissue Bank and can be linked with the Medical Center’s BioMe Biobank, a database of blood samples and health information used for research projects. When researchers collect similar tumors, they also will be genetically sequenced at the Icahn Institute for Genomics and Multiscale Biology at Mount Sinai, to gain additional information across disease types.

This article was first published in Inside Mount Sinai.

2 thoughts on “A Cure for One Patient Yields Hope for Others

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    Nancy Douthwaite

    July 17, 2013 at 3:11pm

    My husband had an insulinoma 30 years ago. He was misdiagnosed for months by his Doctor, who told him it was “all in his head” and wanted him committed to a mental ward. My husband went through hell to get this correctly diagnosed and removed. 4 weeks in ICU, 6 weeks total in hospital. After the 7 hour surgery, he had another setback, Acute Pancreatitis and almost died. The Doctor said if my husband wasn’t young and strong, he would have died.

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    July 17, 2013 at 10:11pm

    Having had an insulinoma, I just want to say that I am glad to see nationwide coverage of them. Also want to say that they can be extremely hard to locate and most patients spend a lot of time both getting them diagnosed and then trying to locate the tumor before surgery can take place. I had two CT scans, an octreotide scan and an endoscopic ultrasound, as well as a spleen scan to rule out an accessory spleen, and even then, they were not entirely sure that the mass they saw was the insulinoma. Also, this woman was very fortunate to have laparoscopic surgery which from my experience talking with others who have had insulinomas removed, is not the norm and recovery from the 12 inch incision can be quite a bit more rigorous.

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