Barrow Neurosurgeon Restores Pastor’s Vision Through Pituitary Surgery

David Clark didn’t think much of it when he woke up early on Tuesday, Sept. 29 with a splitting headache between his eyes or when it persisted throughout the day.

“I thought I was having another sinus headache,” he said. “It’s a fairly common thing for me.”

On Wednesday, however, David awoke to find that he had suddenly lost much of his visual field.

He was unable to schedule an appointment with his primary care physician that day, but another provider examined David over telemedicine and ordered computed tomography (CT) scans of his brain. David scheduled the scans for Thursday afternoon.

In the meantime, he decided to visit an urgent care. A physician there advised him to go to an emergency room if his imaging tests didn’t take place as planned.

David went forward with the CT scans and, on Friday afternoon, received the results: all clear. The next step, he was told, would be to consult with an ophthalmologist or undergo magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) tests for a more detailed picture.

On Sunday, David’s wife dropped him off at Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church in downtown Glendale, Arizona, since he couldn’t see well enough to drive. David, known by many over the last 37 years as Pastor Clark, preached both Sunday services and taught Bible class in between.

While on his lunch break at work on Monday, David received a call from his primary care physician’s office. After getting up to speed on David’s symptoms and test results, the doctor urged his patient to seek emergency medical attention.

Pituitary Surgery: ‘I Could See Immediately’

David received a workup in the emergency room, including an MRI, and learned that he had bleeding on his brain. But with the blood obscuring the images, the emergency room doctor couldn’t definitively say why.

He recommended transferring David to Barrow Neurological Institute for further evaluation and treatment.

“Even though there was this level of uncertainty, he said, ‘This is the place to go; these people specialize in this,’” David recalled.

He arrived at Barrow around 1:30 a.m. and underwent surgery with Dr. F. David Barranco that day. It was Tuesday, Oct. 6—one week after he woke up with his splitting headache.

“The first thing I noticed was I could see immediately,” he said.

Pastor David Clark, Barrow Patient

David described the events surrounding surgery as a whirlwind, clouded by sleep deprivation, hunger, and then anesthesia.

“I woke up from surgery that evening sometime … and the first thing I noticed was I could see immediately,” he said.

Dr. Barranco explained that David had a tumor at the base of his brain, on a pea-sized but important gland known as the pituitary gland. He had removed the tumor through the sphenoid sinus and nasal passage, a minimally invasive approach known as transsphenoidal pituitary surgery.

David’s first question was whether the tumor was cancerous. Fortunately, like most pituitary tumors, it was benign.

“I tell my wife all the time: We are going to concern ourselves with the things we can control; we’re not going to concern ourselves with the things we cannot control,” David said. “But there was a sense of relief when he told me that was the case.”

Pituitary Apoplexy: A Rare But Serious Condition

Pituitary tumors are actually quite common. Dr. Barranco said up to 10 percent of people can have a pituitary tumor in their lifetime. Fortunately, most of them never produce symptoms and do not require surgery.

In some cases, though, these tumors may progressively cause vision loss or hormone dysfunction—even infertility—as they grow.

Dr. Barranco explained that David’s sudden vision impairment resulted from the tumor rapidly enlarging and spontaneously bleeding, a rare but serious condition known as pituitary apoplexy.

F. David Barranco, MD
F. David Barranco, MD, Chief Medical Officer & Neurosurgeon at Barrow Neurological Institute

“The pituitary gland is located under the optic nerves and optic chiasm, the important nerves that relay visual information to the brain,” Dr. Barranco said. “The resultant swelling in the tumor compresses the optic nerves causing an acute loss of vision. In a worst case scenario, this can result in blindness.”

David’s tumor likely began bleeding when he woke up with his terrible headache a week before his pituitary surgery.

“I’m not a guy who panics easily, and I didn’t panic for this, but I realized after the fact that this was a lot more serious than I ever thought it was,” David said. “I thought I had a sinus infection.”

A Smooth Recovery

After some dinner, a much-needed ginger ale to quench his thirst, and a couple of long naps, David was up and walking the hospital hallways within about 10 hours of his pituitary surgery. He’d had a few headaches and felt tired, but he described his recovery as a 10 on a scale of 1 to 10.

“Dr. Barranco’s skill, I think, speaks for itself,” David said. “But the unsung heroes here … are the four nurses I had in intensive care. … They did more than just follow the doctor’s instructions; they also anticipated what I needed at times when I didn’t even know I needed it. That is a rare skill.”

David went home from the hospital on Thursday, with instructions from Dr. Barranco to rest at home, avoid blowing his nose, and refrain from lifting anything over 10 pounds while he healed.

They did more than just follow the doctor’s instructions; they also anticipated what I needed at times when I didn’t even know I needed it. That is a rare skill.”

Pastor David Clark, Barrow Patient

“I said, ‘My Bible weighs 10 pounds,’” David recalled with a laugh.

But he followed his surgeon’s orders and took a break from his work. About three to four weeks after recovering at home, David was free to do more than putter around his house. He got back on the golf course—walking between holes, as he usually does, instead of driving the cart—and enjoyed a light hike with his daughter and son-in-law. He returned to work on Oct. 26—only missing three Sundays.

“Fortunately for Pastor Clark, he was emergently transferred to Barrow Neurological Institute where our Pituitary Center team was activated,” Dr. Barranco said. “He underwent emergent pituitary surgery with reversal of his visual loss and expert neuroendocrine care. He has been able to return to his normal life and continues to serve his congregation.”

‘A Matter of Faith’

As a pastor, David says his perspective on life has always been a bit unique. But his experience with a brain tumor reminds him of Psalm 90:12, a verse in the Bible that says: “Teach us to number our days.”

Although David never feared that his tumor threatened his life, he said such experiences can serve as a reminder to appreciate our blessings and as an opportunity to re-evaluate how we spend our time.

But his pituitary surgery did serve as somewhat of a wake-up call for the active 63-year-old, whose only other overnight hospital stay was when he had his tonsils removed as a child.

“I have been abnormally healthy,” he said. “So to go through something like this makes you take a step back.”

Although David’s pituitary tumor diagnosis reminded him that anyone can be affected by a serious health issue, he reiterates the importance of focusing our energy on the things that we can control.

“The things that are not within our control is what faith is all about,” he said. “Whether that be faith in the skills of doctors and nurses and the medical community, or faith in a God who gives them that ability—it doesn’t really matter which one it is,” David explained. “It’s still a matter of faith.”