Meet Naomi Ishisaka

Naomi IshisakaNaomi Ishisaka knows that getting to the heart of a story takes time and research. The 35-year-old journalist has worked for papers throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Background information is a critical step toward developing a balanced and well-rounded piece.

Ishisaka’s talent for getting to the real story served her well in September 2009, when she found herself writing the first installments of Naomi’s Noggin: My Meningioma and its Demise, a blog she created after being diagnosed
with a brain tumor.

The tale is of Ishisaka’s research, surgery and subsequent recovery after the meningioma was removed by a team of UW Medicine health-care professionals at Harborview Medical Center. It is chronicled on Ishisaka’s blog.

“For the past three or four years, I had been suffering from eye strain,” Ishisaka recalled. “My right eye would weep; I had a sort of film over it. I went to four different optometrists who gave me ointments and drops for allergic reactions but nothing worked. It wasn’t until the ferocious, sharp headaches began that I took some additional steps.”

Ishisaka’s nurse practitioner was alarmed enough to order an immediate MRI. The result was a tumor that was invading the bones of her skull and pushing on her right eye.

Ishisaka was stunned.

“I had only been to the doctor before for routine exams,” she said. “This was something unexpected.”

Ishisaka was referred to Harborview, part of the UW Medicine health system, to see world renowned neurosurgeon Dr. Laligam Sekhar, UW Medicine professor and vice chair of neurological surgery and director of cerebrovascular surgery at Harborview.

Once diagnosed, Ishisaka went into action, learning all she could about her meningioma and, most importantly, Sekhar.

As an investigative reporter, Ishisaka’s research involved reviewing Sekhar’s credentials and learning more about Harborview. Sekhar, she learned, was one of the top surgeons in the country for meningiomas and attracted patients from all over the world who sought his skill and technique.

“As a resident of King County, I have long been impressed with the work that Harborview does,” Ishisaka said. “When I arrived at Harborview, the hospital could not have been lovelier — it was one of the nicest facilities I had ever seen. Combined with Dr. Sekhar’s relentless demand for excellence, I knew that I would have my surgery at Harborview.”

Ishisaka asked her family to document her journey from admission to recovery at Harborview. Ishisaka’s sister interviewed her several hours after the 11-hour surgery and posted the video online for family, friends and the larger community — particularly other tumor patients. Sharing her recovery was an important step in the healing process.


The rest of the story

“The thing that was most comforting was that they allowed my family and friends to be with me day and night,” Ishisaka said. “I have visited friends in the hospital and only one person could be with the patient. Harborview really embodies family-centered care and focuses on the needs of the patient and family first.”

After surgery

Two and a half months after surgery, Ishisaka returned to work and began driving again.

“This experience has taught me that people are resilient,” Ishisaka said. If I can handle this, I can handle anything. I also developed a great network of people on the internet who have shared their amazing stories of recovery.”

Ishisaka continues to avail herself of the multiple specialty clinics available at the Ninth & Jefferson Building at Harborview, including the UW Medicine Eye Institute.

Advice for other patients

“Do your research,” Ishisaka said.

“Some people pressed me to go elsewhere for my surgery,” Ishisaka said. “I knew I wanted the most skillful surgical team in the world in the safest environment possible and I found that in my own community at Harborview.”