After graduating from high school in Mexico City in 2017, Ana Paula Wiechers traveled to Europe with a group of girlfriends. While there, she took pleasure in admiring the many styles of architecture she would soon study in college — a career path influenced by her late grandfather, who was an architect.
"Berlin was one of my favorite cities with its history and mix of modern and historical buildings," Ana Paula says. "It was an incredible trip."
That she was able to travel and enjoy all Europe has to offer was especially sweet for Ana Paula. Less than a year earlier, the possibility of such an adventure seemed remote.
In 2016, Ana Paula was diagnosed with a nerve tumor that was impinging on her spine and her left kidney. Neurosurgeons in Mexico City told her that surgery to take it out may result in paralysis or neurologic deficits that could last for the rest of her life.
But a multidisciplinary team at Mayo Clinic was able to make a plan to successfully remove the tumor and put Ana Paula back on the path to a healthy future.
"Our goal was to get as much of the tumor out as possible while preserving her kidney and neurologic function," says Mohamad Bydon, M.D., a Mayo Clinic neurosurgeon who was part of Ana Paula's care team. "She has a long life ahead of her."
An active teen who played soccer and was an avid skier, Ana Paula learned about the tumor, called a schwannoma, after an ultrasound and a CT scan in December 2016. Schwannomas grows along nerve roots. Over time, they can lead to nerve damage and loss of muscle control.
As Ana Paula's pain was increasing due to the tumor and she faced the prospect of surgery, her primary care doctor recommended she go to Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus for a consult. There she met with specialists in the departments of Neurology and Neurosurgery. Because of the tumor's size and location, and due to her age, they recommended surgery to remove the tumor.
Although she was initially apprehensive about having surgery, Ana Paula felt confident moving forward with it after meeting Dr. Bydon.
"Dr. Bydon was so professional, informative and empathetic," she says. "I liked that he gave me several surgical options and involved me in the decision-making."
"Over time, the tumor would have become more painful and debilitating and more difficult to remove safely," says Dr. Bydon. "Its size and proximity to critical structures made it a complex surgery, which is why we put together a multidisciplinary team for the procedure."
The surgery was scheduled for March 6, 2017. During the procedure, Ana Paula's surgeons removed the entire tumor, which was the size of an orange. Afterward, she stayed in the hospital for three days.
"Everyone was so nice. The nurses were so attentive with me," Ana Paula says. "The entire staff made this a much less difficult experience than I'd imagined it to be."
Since the surgery, Ana Paula has maintained full function in the left side of her body and has not had any problems with her kidney.
Now in her first semester at the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City, Ana Paula is excited to put her medical odyssey behind her and begin her journey toward becoming an architect.
"Architecture has fascinated me since I was a child," Ana Paula says. "Unlike other disciplines, it doesn't have a lot of rules and enables you to fully express yourself creatively."
And she's already thinking ahead to what she will do with her new career.
"During my fifth semester, I'm planning on studying abroad. I'm really looking forward to living in another country," she says. "Once I graduate, I'd like to design houses."