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“I am happy that I am in the USA where I can meet good people and doctors, have good treatment, and good results.”

brain tumor treatment care team - UNC Health
Hanna with neuro-oncologist Dr. Yasmeen Rauf and neurosurgical oncologist Dr. Dominique Higgins.

Hanna is a Ukrainian refugee who came to the United States in September of 2022 as part of the United for Ukrainians program. Hanna was living in Florida when she started having seizures. One of her friends found her after a seizure and took Hanna to the emergency room. After imaging, it was confirmed that Hanna had a brain tumor.

Hanna was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor, known as a glioma. The large tumor took up most of her left frontal lobe, also putting her speech at risk. While still in Florida, Hanna met with Dr. Dominique Higgins over a virtual appointment to discuss surgery and treatment for her tumor. “I like Dr. Higgins,” said Hanna. “I am happy that he was the main person who did my surgery.”

When she relocated to North Carolina, she moved in with her brother’s family and their host family. The host family advised Hanna to go to UNC Health for treatment. UNC Health nurse navigator, Ann Dixon, helped Hanna get settled, establish residency, and get her insurance sorted out as quickly as possible so they could proceed with her surgery and treatment.

Since Hanna’s brain tumor was so large, the tumor touched the language area of the brain. Hanna went in for surgery on April 12, 2023. Dr. Higgins performed the resection surgery while Hanna was awake to ensure that removal of the tumor did not cause any damage to her speech. Dr. Higgins and his team of neurologists, neuropsychologists, and neurophysiologists mapped Hanna’s English and Ukrainian language centers to ensure maximal safe resection.

Brain tumors located near important structures, also known as eloquent areas of the brain, require a highly skilled and experienced neurosurgeon. Removal of these sensitive tumors is also referred to as eloquent brain tumor surgery and is an area of expertise for neurosurgical oncologist, Dr. Dominique Higgins. “We were sure that Dr. Higgins would do his job very well,” said Hanna.

The resection was successful and Hanna was able to go home after only one night in the hospital. She then went on to chemotherapy and radiation therapy treatment. “The period after the surgery was not as hard as I thought,” said Hanna. “I’m feeling good. I take my chemotherapy medication in a pill and I go every day for radiation therapy at the hospital.”

Hanna now meets with Dr. Yasmeen Rauf to manage her chemotherapy and radiation therapy treatments at UNC Health. Once treatment is over, Hanna will have appointments every few months to allow both Dr. Higgins and Dr. Rauf to monitor Hanna’s scans for tumor growth. Dr. Higgins and Dr. Rauf are both part of the UNC multidisciplinary neuro-oncology clinic.

Despite all that Hanna has been through over the past couple of years, she maintains a positive outlook on life and her diagnosis. “I am happy that I am in the USA where I can meet good people and doctors, have good treatment, and good results,” said Hanna.



Written by: Makenzie Hardy, Marketing Coordinator, UNC Health Department of Neurosurgery