Fayetteville Man’s Life Improves Dramatically after Nasal Surgery at UAMS

By Linda Satter

He had completely forgotten the heady, lemony aroma that filled his nostrils when he was a boy and his mother bustled around the house spraying the furniture with polish.

He didn’t know it was possible to sleep so peacefully.

But since undergoing surgery on Sept. 15 at the hands of Alissa Kanaan, M.D., an otolaryngologist at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), Peterson is gleeful about many things that others take for granted.

“I can breathe so clearly now,” he said, a smile in his voice. “I can taste food like you wouldn’t believe. All my senses are incredibly awesome, because of Dr. Kanaan.”

As he recuperated at his mother’s home, the 49-year-old Fayetteville man spoke excitedly about his rediscovered ability to taste, smell and breathe freely following a three-hour outpatient surgery to remove nasal polyps that had occupied his entire nasal cavity.

He described falling into deep, peaceful slumber in a La-Z-Boy recliner, prompting alarm as his mother walked by and noticed that he wasn’t thrashing about or struggling to breathe.

“She said, ‘Hmmm … his mouth’s closed. He’s completely still. Is he alive?’”

As he recalled his mother’s reaction to his blissful nap – the first in years – she could be heard giggling in the background. Peterson also had to chuckle.

The truth is, he says, he is more alive than he has been in a long time.

“I’m a new man,” Peterson said.

Back in 1989, when he was 17 years old and lived in Southern California, he was driving a car when his diabetes caused his blood sugar to drop and he collided head-on with a truck.

“It pretty much crushed a section of my forehead, which is why I have a steel plate in my head,” he said.

In the 32 years since, damage caused by the accident and ensuing surgeries left him with increasing problems breathing through his nose and a greatly diminished sense of smell, but he figured they were just permanent conditions he would have to live with.

Then he started experiencing problems with his forehead, and knew he needed medical intervention.

“My forehead just got a big build-up of who knows what,” he said. “It seemed like allergies at first. A bunch of fluid created a big lump on my upper forehead, just above my eyebrow, along the hairline. Then it started stretching the skin and oozing through my forehead.”

To hide the lump, “I lived in a hat,” he said. “It was really noticeable.”

He sought help from several physicians in northwest Arkansas, but all of them turned him away, citing the complicated nature of the surgery.

“I kept hearing, ‘I’m not touching that,’” Peterson recalled.

Finally, as his condition continued to worsen, a nurse practitioner in Springdale referred him to the Department of Otolaryngology at UAMS in Little Rock.

On his first visit to UAMS, he said, Kanaan instantly put him at ease. Peterson recalled how she smiled warmly and confidently, and instead of shaking her head no like the other doctors had done, told him she could do the procedure.

He remembers feeling a great sense of relief as he thought, “I know she knows what she’s doing.”

Kanaan later explained: “He had trauma when he was 17, but he also had a defect in the bone.”

Alissa Kanaan, M.D.

Alissa Kanaan, M.D.

She said the skull base separates the sinuses from the brain, and any surgeon operating on the sinuses has to be careful to avoid disrupting the separation or risk causing brain injury.

The situation was especially tricky with Peterson because “he had really bad polyps in his nose,” she said. The fact that the polyps occupied his entire nasal cavity, she explained, made it likely that while trying to remove them, a surgeon wouldn’t be able to see how close the surgical instruments were to the brain, creating a high risk of injuring the delicate brain tissue.

In addition, she said, “The defect in the skull base put him at a higher risk of infection.”

“I could see that he had several polyps, as well as chronic infection in his forehead due to a previous surgery,” she said. The infection was creating the pus that Peterson described as leaking out of his forehead.

Kanaan said she considered treating Peterson’s infection with oral antibiotics and using steroids to shrink the polyps, but because he is diabetic, steroids weren’t an option.

She said she decided to proceed with surgery because “at UAMS, we have the technology and the skills to perform complex surgeries with good outcomes.”

In deciding how best to treat Peterson’s infection, Kanaan said she consulted with infections disease specialists at UAMS, who recommended putting him on intravenous antibiotics after the surgery, to be administered by home health aides as Peterson recovered at his mother’s home in Fayetteville.

Peterson said he was grateful to Kanaan for patiently explaining the plan to his mother and his girlfriend and giving them detailed instructions for helping him recover at home.

“Dr. Kanaan is a wonderful doctor,” he said. “There’s not a word big enough and strong enough and lovely enough to describe her.”

At 6 feet 4 inches tall and 200 pounds, Peterson said his severely diminished sense of smell over the years didn’t keep him from having an appetite. But until after the surgery, he never realized that he had been missing out on so many smells and tastes for so many years.

By the time he got to UAMS, “he had no sense of smell,” Kanaan said. “He probably had not been able to smell anything for 10 years.”

But now, he said, “I’m breathing! I’m smelling!”

To illustrate his excitement, he exclaims, “I just opened a jar of store-bought salsa and I’m like, ‘Oh my God!’”

As he prepared to return in a few weeks to his job driving motorized pallet jacks and loading food into a huge freezer at a Con Agra warehouse, he said, “I’m not completely healed, but I feel great. It’s been an awesome experience.”