• By Jason Howland

From tumor to toddler: A Montana man’s path to fatherhood

June 14, 2019

A newlywed couple trying to have a baby felt like all was lost when they failed to conceive. But Mayo Clinic surgeons provided new hope after successfully removing a tricky tumor near the husband's brain that was the cause of the infertility and the root of all of his other health problems.

Reporter Jason Howland has his story.

Watch: From tumor to toddler - A Montana man's path to fatherhood

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Please "Courtesy: Mayo Clinic News Network." Read the script.

Nestled among the rolling hills of central Montana is Roundup.

"It got its name from literally rounding up cattle here because of the river and the landscape," says Derin Gebhardt.

It's a small town of 1,100 people where there are no strangers.

"Everybody knows everybody," he says.

A lifelong resident, Derin Gebhardt takes great pride serving as a volunteer firefighter.

"I want to help people. I want to follow my dad's footsteps. I want to make a difference in my community," he says.

And like most in this tiny town, family matters.

"It's important to take care of those around you because one day they may need to take care of you," he says.

He was a newlywed in 2016.

"We dated for eight months and then married after that, and here we are," says Sandra Gebhardt, his wife.

He was in his 30s, but his health was a concern.

"I was not sleeping well," Derin Gebhardt says. "I had terribly high blood pressure. I was 465 pounds."

He was eating healthy and exercising, but couldn't lose weight.

"I remember talking to my mom and I was like, 'There's something wrong, but we can't find it,'" says Sandra Gebhardt. "I just was scared to death that he was going to die."

And they were trying, to no avail, to have a baby. Sandra Gebhardt suggested that the problem might be hormones.

"She comes home and she says, 'I've got a feeling that maybe you have low testosterone,'" says Derin Gebhardt.

Her suspicions were right. And a local doctor confirmed the hormone imbalance was caused by a benign tumor on his pituitary gland near the brain.

"I kind of had a sense of opening a new door and not knowing where that's going to lead you," says Derin Gebhardt. "But also a little bit of relief, like, to say that, 'OK, it's not my fault.'"

Medication to reduce the size of the tumor was first, followed by surgery to remove it at Mayo Clinic's campus in Arizona.

"His hormones were out of whack because of this tumor pushing on the pituitary gland," says Dr. Bernard Bendok, a Mayo Clinic neurosurgeon.

"This particular tumor, called a 'prolactinoma,' produces a hormone called prolactin," says Dr. Devyani Lal, a Mayo Clinic otorhinolaryngologist. "The function of prolactin is to inhibit fertility."

The minimally invasive surgery took a team of Mayo experts in neurosurgery and otorhinolaryngology to remove.

"We actually go through two nostrils, and we work as two surgeons with four hands," says Dr. Lal. "We actually use very small microscopic instruments with great precision in what we remove."

Surgeons successfully removed the tumor.

"His testosterone normalized. His prolactin level went to normal. His MRI after surgery showed complete tumor resection," says Dr. Bendok.

And less than nine months later, little Gage Gebhardt arrived six weeks early.

"When she told me she was pregnant, it was an answered prayer," says Derin Gebhardt. "It was wonderful when he was born, and he was healthy. And I changed his first diaper and held him in the NICU (neonatal ICU) — an overwhelming joy and also a feeling of someone else is depending on you now."

"We often think of endpoints in terms of just the patient's health. But when you also allow a family to create life together, that is just a very meaningful thing," says Dr. Bendok.

"It definitely shouldn't have happened from a scientific standpoint, but it did," says Sandra Gebhardt. "And we were very, very excited."

Derin Gebhardt is a doting dad. "You just say, 'Wow, you know, what a blessing,'" he says.

He's lost a significant amount of weight. His blood pressure is normal. He's sleeping well and full of energy, just like his son.

"He really keeps us on our toes," says Sandra Gebhardt.

"He's definitely one to explore," says Derin Gebhardt. "He likes to do his perimeter sweeps around the room and around the house.

I'd love for Gage to grow up and have a happy childhood. The future's bright."

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