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Blossoming from a strawberry: A young patient's family gives thanks for life-changing treatment

Suzanne Mundhenke’s first few years of life were ripe with drama.

She was born 12 weeks premature. Under her right eye, she had a large growth called a capillary hemangioma—a fast-growing noncancerous tumor, also known as a strawberry hemangioma. Very soon it began to grow over her eye, obstructing her vision and affecting the eye’s development.

“We were very scared and very concerned for Suzanne,” says her mother, Sharla Mundhenke. “We were afraid she was going to lose her eye and her vision.”

But with life-changing treatment and surgery at the University of Minnesota’s Department of Ophthalmology, Suzanne has become a successful young adult. She’s now 18 years old and excited to start college.

Finding solutions

Sharla and Jeff Mundhenke brought Suzanne to the University’s Department of Ophthalmology as a newborn to see C. Gail Summers, M.D. “She had a suggestion for a treatment that offered us some hope,” Sharla says.

“At the beginning, when I saw Suzanne, she was still premature and hadn’t reached her due date. She was so tiny,” says Summers, adding that Suzanne’s hemangioma was the largest she had ever seen.

To treat the massive tumor, Summers gave Suzanne three long-acting steroid injections, which made the blood vessels contract and the tumor shrink. “We were relieved,” says Sharla, when the tumor simply faded away.

Following the treatment, Summers asked Suzanne’s parents to use an eye patch on her other eye a few hours each day to help the repaired eye grow stronger.

Summers credits the treatment’s success to the diligence of Suzanne’s parents.

“If you don’t have parents who are really involved in the management, you won’t have a result as successful as Suzanne’s,” Summers says. “They were part of the treatment team, as far as I was concerned.”

But although the tumor had disappeared, when Suzanne was 5 years old she developed another eye problem called esotropia, a wandering of the eyes.

“I couldn’t really see much. It was blurry,” says Suzanne, adding that she wasn’t a very active child because of her vision problems.

Summers realized that her work with Suzanne wasn’t done and determined that a bilateral strabismus surgery was needed to correct this new problem.

“Having that surgery and being able to see allowed me to do everything I do today,” says Suzanne, who now only wears glasses and contacts.

A graduating high school senior, Suzanne is involved in music—she plays the French horn and piano—track, the Key Club, Knowledge Bowl, Junior Rotarian, and National Honor Society. She is busy preparing for college interviews and hopes to major in chemistry and premed.

“She just blossomed into this wonderful young woman,” Summers says proudly. “She’s a happy individual and extremely bright. I can say this as a mom—she’s the kind of kid most moms dream of having.”

Saying thank you

Summers says she relishes the chance to see her patients grow into happy adults with great vision. “It is one of the joys of dealing with children,” she says.

The Mundhenkes say they are grateful for Summers’s work and her continued commitment. “Dr. Summers is incredibly kind and very knowledgeable and professional,” says Sharla.

As a way of saying thanks to the department, the Mundhenke family has made regular gifts throughout the years, totaling $5,775.

“There are a lot of little kids out there who need help,” says Sharla. “Suzanne was given excellent health care, and we are very thankful. It’s our family’s way of giving back.”

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