Perseverance and grace are qualities people often learn through life experiences. For 17-year-old Olivia Renzi, these qualities allowed her to transform stumbling blocks into stepping stones.
For years, doctors could not figure out why Olivia was growing so rapidly. She was much taller than other children her age and wasn’t developing normally. In 2013, her mother, Andra, brought Olivia to MassGeneral Hospital for Children (MGHfC) to meet Gleeson Rebello, MBBS, in Pediatric Orthopaedics.
“When I first met Olivia, I knew she had bigger fish to fry than just her orthopaedic issues that I treated her for,” says Rebello. “She’s very tall for her age, about 6-foot-5-inches, so I thought her medical issues could have an endocrine component as well.”
Rebello referred the family to Vibha Singhal, MBBS, an MGHfC pediatric endocrinologist. After multiple blood and imaging tests, Singhal diagnosed Olivia with gigantism, a rare growth disorder caused by a non-cancerous pituitary brain tumor.
“When they did the MRI and my mom told me they found something, I sort of knew what it was,” says Olivia. “I just thought to myself, ‘OK, this is what they found and now I have to take care of it.’ I chose to see the treatments as ways of helping me move toward getting better. In my mind, that was the only way to look at it.”
Amid medication changes to control her symptoms, surgery to remove some of the tumor and radiation to shrink what couldn’t be surgically removed, Olivia took every obstacle in stride – including an additional diagnosis of narcolepsy, a sleep disorder that causes overwhelming drowsiness.
“One thing I’ve learned is how to calm myself down and be OK,” Olivia says. “When you’re faced with a struggle, it’s important to have a big cry and let those emotions out because once you do, you’re through it and you feel better. I know everything the doctors do is to help me feel better.”
Despite the many challenges, Olivia is now a high school senior and takes college-level animation and graphic design courses at Lesley University. She recently traveled to New York City to study film production at a young adult summer program. Her medication regimen, diligence with doctors’ appointments and positive attitude keep her on track to do the things she enjoys.
“Mass General was there for us in a time of what felt like hopelessness. They knew what they were doing and they did it,” says Andra, who credits MGHfC with her daughter’s ability to thrive. ”You’re not just another appointment; you’re not just a number. You feel like part of a team, like you’re valued and they’ll do anything to help figure out what’s wrong.”
Singhal said Olivia is an endless source of learning and inspiration, not only as a patient, but as a person. “Seeing Olivia in such a great place amid such a difficult diagnosis is really all I could ask for,” he says. “Olivia inspires me and challenges me in so many ways on a human, medical and social level. It’s so rewarding to care for her.”
Read more articles from the 01/27/17 Hotline issue.