Eric's Story: Finding Balance After Acoustic Neuroma

A rare tumor threatened a former police officer's hearing and balance, but he's active and mountain biking again thanks to his RUSH surgeon
Eric's Story

You’d think a military veteran and police officer who retired after 26 years of service might slow down. But Eric Moyes, at 60 years old, doesn’t do “slow.” 

“I enjoy mountain biking, golfing, physical fitness, and the outdoors,” says Eric, a dad of three and, recently, a grandpa who still works part time at the sheriff’s department in Joliet, Illinois.

But a few years ago, Eric felt severe pains in his head during his workouts at the gym. He didn’t know it, but he had a growing acoustic neuroma.

An acoustic neuroma is a benign tumor that grows on the nerve that leads from the inner ear to the brain and affects balance and hearing. “They tend to be slowly growing; although, some can grow quickly. They're the minority of cases,” says Mark Wiet, MD, neurotologist at RUSH. 

These tumors sometimes go unnoticed, never causing problems throughout a person’s lifetime. But in other cases, they cause hearing loss, tinnitus, imbalance and, rarely, paralysis of facial nerves.

Eric knew he should see a doctor because he’d been down this road before, almost two decades earlier.

A diagnosis 20 years in the making

Shortly after he left the military, Eric felt a sharp headache while working out at the gym.

“I just thought it was odd,” Eric says. “I went to the emergency room. They did their tests, and they said they couldn’t explain it.” 

For years, the pain disappeared — until it suddenly came back.

Eric waited it out this time, thinking it would come and go like before. He laid off exercise for a few days, but as soon as he started again, the pain returned.

Eric’s doctor recommended an MRI. “He comes in and says, ‘You’ve got a tumor in your head.’ And I was devastated. I probably turned as white as a ghost,” Eric says.

The physician referred him to Wiet, who explained that the rare, generally benign tumor was only a few millimeters in size. While Wiet cannot say for certain that Mark’s head pain was caused by the tumor, it was still a good thing that the MRI caught the acoustic neuroma so he could provide treatment.

“When the tumors start to grow, you can continue to watch them while they're small, or you can go ahead and take them out with surgery, or you can treat them with radiation,” Dr. Wiet says. “If the tumors can be removed when they're small, it gives you the best chance at preserving patients’ hearing for the rest of their lives.”

So Eric and Wiet decided to monitor the acoustic neuroma at first. But in 2017, Wiet showed Eric an image of the tumor and said now would be a good time to remove it before it grew any bigger.

“And I was like, ‘All right, let’s do this,’” Eric says.

Facing facial palsy

The surgery went smoothly. Within 48 hours, Eric was up and walking, but he was still in for a difficult recovery. His main concern was the risk of facial palsy — losing control over the nerves in his face.

“I remember speaking to the resident. I say ‘Is my face moving all right?’ And he said, ‘Yes. But things could get worse before they get better,’” Eric says.

Eric went home and continued to improve. He took walks through the neighborhood and worked on his balance.

Then one day, as he was looking in the mirror, he noticed the left side of his mouth drooping. It seemed Eric’s greatest concern was coming true.

Wiet had warned him that this could happen and to call immediately if it did. He put Eric on a 19-day prednisone regimen and antivirals, which in Eric’s view was the hardest part of recovery. Because of the steroid medication, he only slept about three hours each day.

Eric also felt self-conscious about being in public. Luckily, a friend convinced him to get outside, and it changed Eric’s perspective. He thought, “You know what, I can deal with it. Put the vanity aside.”

Thankfully, one morning while shaving, Eric saw his lip moving. Slowly but surely, he regained control.

Eric’s life finally mostly got back to normal. In fact, his recent MRI and audio test showed no recurrence of his tumor and no hearing loss. 

'I’m one of the fortunate ones'

Today, Eric stays active, but he still has some trouble with balance. Getting back to biking for the first time presented challenges. “I went over the handlebars and crashed more times in that two hours than I probably had in my whole life,” he says.

Still, Eric considers himself lucky that his acoustic neuroma treatment and recovery went so well. “I’m one of the fortunate ones,” Eric says.

Eric’s advice for anyone with an acoustic neuroma is to reach out to others who went through it, join communities or contact organizations, like the Acoustic Neuroma Association, that can provide support.

He was motivated by others who got treatment and recovered. 

“I like watching American Ninja Warrior,” he says. “And there was a person competing that had the same procedure. He was able to run those courses. So don’t let fear overcome you.”

If you need treatment for an acoustic neuroma, schedule your appointment at RUSH by calling (888) 352-7874.

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