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Now you see it, now you don’t: How a trip to the DMV saved a Glendale resident’s vision

Now you see it, now you don’t: How a trip to the DMV saved a Glendale resident’s vision
Edna Minassian, 39, realized she couldn't see out of her left eye during a vision test at the Glendale DMV in November. Days later, she underwent surgery to remove a brain tumor that was causing the blindness. (Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

When Edna Minassian, 39, dropped by the Glendale DMV in mid-November, she assumed she would complete a test or two and walk out with a renewed license in no time.

However, during the required vision test, Minassian covered her right eye. A panic set in. She could see almost nothing with her left eye.

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“All the sudden, I was like, ‘Wait, what’s going on,” said Minassian, a Glendale resident and jeweler, who relies on her 20/20 vision for her livelihood.

For a few months, Minassian, mother of 4-year-old Sophia, had been experiencing some head pain and small visual abnormalities, but with a fear of doctors and medicine, she did not seek medical help, brushing the symptoms off as minor and transitory.

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According to Dr. Martin Mortazavi, a brain surgeon, it’s common for people who gradually lose their sight or hearing in one eye or ear not to notice that they’re impaired for a long time. The brain is still receiving input from another input — the other eye or ear — masking the problem, he said.

Soon after the DMV incident, Minassian sought medical help, at the insistence of her significant other.

A chain-store optometrist could not provide a diagnosis, and urged Minassian to see a neuro-ophthalmologist, a specialist in vision problems related to the brain.

An MRI revealed that Minassian had a small, benign tumor known as a meningioma behind her left eye. It explained the symptoms but didn’t quell the underlying anxiety: Would she ever recover her vision?

One neuro-ophthalmologist told her she had extensive nerve damage and would never see out of her left eye again. Seeking another opinion, Minassian went to Dr. Nafiseh Hashemi, who thought there was a chance she could recover some of her vision if she acted quickly.

While Hashemi observed around 30% nerve damage in Minassian’s left eye, she was hopeful because Minassian could still see some things in her peripheral vision and had some awareness of dark and light in the affected eye.

Hashemi urged Minassian to seek surgery immediately, referring her to Mortazavi.

“I asked [Hashemi], ‘Can I wait until Christmas? I want to spend more time with my daughter,’” Minassian said. “She said, ‘Absolutely not.’”

Just days after the fateful trip to the DMV, Minassian went under the knife.

“[The tumor] was in a such precarious position, any misstep could have caused permanent blindness,” Mortazavi said.

In about seven hours, the tumor was removed. When Minassian awoke, Mortazavi asked her if she could read his name tag with her left eye. She could.

“I feel like God was involved with this,” Minassian said. “Had I not gone to renew my driver’s license, I would have never known [about the tumor]. I could have left this Earth or been completely blind.”

According to Mortazavi, Minassian’s prognosis is good. He will continue to monitor her to make sure the tumor does not return.

“It’s the best kind of tumor you can have,” Mortazavi said of the benign, slow-growing meningioma.

A self-described “workaholic,” Minassian immediately returned to work, buying and selling mostly high-end jewelry from private clients.

The harrowing experience has also helped her overcome her long-standing fear of doctors.

“I’ll be getting my yearly checkup,” she said.

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