Robert McNiven

As the owner of Scott’s Hallmark in the Empire State Plaza, Robert McNiven was accustomed to juggling all the details that go into running a retail business. But a few years ago, McNiven started having trouble staying organized. Other strange things happened as well. He became obsessive about paying the mortgage, started running up credit card debt and had trouble keeping priorities straight. His memory was getting worse, too.

After work, he’d come home exhausted and nap, a habit that was foreign to him. McNiven thought it was advancing age. His wife thought it was a thyroid issue or depression. “They were getting ready to take me to a psychologist,” says McNiven, 60, of Altamont. “Nobody thought it was the brain.”  

On Columbus Day weekend, McNiven and his wife Nancy took a trip to Maine. McNiven couldn’t stop vomiting and was having trouble walking. When the couple returned home, he rushed to his primary doctor, who immediately sent him for an MRI. The scan revealed a growth on his brain. “My doctor said, ‘Right this minute, get in your car and go to Albany Med,’” McNiven recalls. “It was so big that it was pushing my brain from the right side of my head to the left side of my head.”

On the morning of Oct. 12, 2012, his youngest son, Steven, shaved McNiven’s head to prepare him for surgery. At noon, Albany Med neurosurgeon Dr. Tyler Kenning began the six-hour procedure that removed an 8 cm. frontal meningioma, a type of brain tumor that is most often benign though still life-threatening.

“This was a fairly sizeable mass, and although meningiomas are often benign, Mr. McNiven’s tumor had invaded many of the important arteries and veins on the brain’s surface. This was further complicated by the location of the tumor right over the area of the brain that controlled his speech. We had to carefully work to remove the tumor without damaging any of these important structures,” explains Dr. Kenning.

When Robert woke up two hours later, his physicians were thrilled when he immediately asked, “Are you done already?” The surgery was a success, and his speech was spared.

His wife and three children were at his bedside. His oldest son, Robert, who is in the Air Force, had flown home from Utah, while his daughter Jenny had driven home from New Mexico with her three dogs. 

Although the growth was fortunately benign, doctors found enough abnormal cells inside the tumor to prescribe radiation just to be sure it would not grow back. Even so, McNiven’s energy has been restored, and he’s taking walks and even hopes to resume jogging next year.

“I’m absolutely certain Dr. Kenning saved my life,” McNiven says. “If I wasn’t looked at for another week, I don’t know if I’d be here.”

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