Who Treats the Doctor Who Gets Brain Cancer: Dr. Jeffrey Bruce

When doctors told Maria Bonyhay that her fatigue, headaches, and sensitivity to light and sound were symptoms of an inoperable brain tumor, she and her husband, Istvan, refused to believe it.

Since Maria and Istvan are both medical researchers and doctors, they immediately sought another opinion. When the second opinion reinforced the first, they were emotionally devastated.

Maria Bonyhay in front of Columbia

Maria Bonyhay in front of Columbia

Maria’s tumor was in the pineal region, deep in the center of the brain. Doctors performed a needle biopsy of the tumor using a sophisticated computer-guided (stereotactic) mapping system.

They confirmed the diagnosis: glioblastoma multiforme, one of the deadliest types of brain cancer. Both of her doctors declared the tumor inoperable.

At the time, Maria and Istvan were raising two sons, ages 12 and 8, in Boston. Here they were, two respected medical professionals, in a city known for its health care resources, and they were being told that Maria had less than two years to live.

Despite feeling discouraged, they began doing extensive research. They reached out to other medical researchers as well as their friends and family. Everyone shared their desperation to do and try anything that could help. It was through this circle of friends that they found Dr. Jeffrey Bruce, co-director of the Brain Tumor Center at Columbia University Medical Center/NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital.

Dr. Bruce had pioneered a new surgical technique to remove pineal region tumors. Despite its early success, he was still one of very few doctors performing the procedure. Maria and Istvan soon traveled to New York to meet with him.

They were impressed from the moment they met Dr. Bruce. “He was so kind and thorough and incredibly helpful,” Maria says. “He was so personally interested in caring for Maria. I was absolutely sure that Dr. Bruce wanted to save her,” Istvan says. After examining Maria, Dr. Bruce determined that he would be able to remove the rare tumor.

Access to Maria’s tumor was not so easy. It was located deep in the part of the brain that controls important functions such as eye movements, sleep/wake cycles, and level of awareness. The surgery was complex and lengthy, but Dr. Bruce was able to remove the entire tumor. The malignant glioblastoma was out!

Maria says she was amazed by her speedy recovery. Soon after surgery, she was able to get out of bed and walk around, and she was completely symptom-free.

Both Maria and Istvan were amazed by the outstanding care they received, and continue to receive, from Dr. Bruce, his assistant Aileen, and the entire team at Columbia University Medical Center/NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. They fell in love with New York City and now refer to it as the place of “Maria’s Rebirth.”

Maria has been tumor-free for five years. She truly feels like Dr. Bruce gave her back her life. She, Istvan, and their two sons, now 17 and 13, all believe that Maria is a testimony to Columbia’s motto: “Amazing Things Are Happening Here!”