When words started to blur together on paper, Maria Muñoz Peña thought it was just another side effect of pregnancy.
But after she lost the ability to see shapes, colors and faces, she figured she should at least get glasses. The eye doctor disagreed. He sent the 32-year-old Miami Beach woman straight to the obstetrics emergency room at Jackson Memorial for an MRI in December.
The brain scan showed that as Muñoz Peña’s belly swelled during her 27 weeks of pregnancy, so did a tumor in her skull. The benign, egg-sized mass was wound around the nerves of her eyes, her neurosurgeon, Dr. Michael Ivan, said Thursday. Pregnancy hormones made the normally slow-growing benign tumor expand rapidly, strangling her eye nerves.
“As each hour went by, her vision was getting worse,” said Ivan, of UHealth-University of Miami Health System. “All she could see was light and dark.”
In a 12-hour surgery, Ivan untangled the tumor from Muñoz Peña’s optic nerves. He also discovered another tumor, tucked into her brain. As Ivan worked, a team of anesthesiologists and obstetricians monitored the baby’s progress.
At the Thursday press conference, Muñoz Peña pushed her chocolate brown bangs up to reveal a light pink scar that hugged her hairline from ear to ear, the only sign that her skull was cut open and stapled back together three months earlier.
Before the surgery, her wavy hair reached all the way to her waist, she said. Days before the operation was scheduled, Muñoz Peña flipped her mane upside down in the shower and gave herself a haircut, complete with blunt bangs, to hide the future surgical scar.
On Monday, her son, Santino Michar Peña was born via C-section. He weighed 7 pounds, 2 ounces, and his mother said she can’t stop looking at him.
“I can see perfectly fine, and I have my baby here and he’s perfect,” she said, smiling as she adjusted his blue cap on his tiny head. “I can enjoy my baby, my husband, my life. We have a second opportunity at life.”