Massive teratoma removed from Tucson newlywed’s chest

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Ryan & Sarah Winfield

At 23-years-old, Tucson resident Ryan Winfield knew something was wrong when he woke up one morning and felt something pushing on his chest. He was young, healthy and athletic – in fact, he played volleyball just a few days prior – so no need to worry, right? Later that afternoon, he woke up from a nap and was struggling to breathe. “I laid there for a little bit hoping whatever was going on would go away. It went away to a degree, but a few hours later, I was moving some boxes and I had to sit down,” he said. “I just couldn’t breathe.”

By now, he knew something was seriously wrong.

His mother-in-law, a nurse, thought he was having an asthma attack. Winfield was rushed to the emergency department where he was given medicine for a panic attack. Doctors then realized Winfield wasn’t suffering from a panic attack at all. They ordered a CT scan of his chest.

That’s when they discovered the mass.

Winfield had a tumor sitting on top of his heart, in between his lungs. “It was bigger than a softball and shaped like a football,” he described. He was sent to an oncologist. “The oncologist said he was 80 percent certain it was Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The second he said that my wife was devastated. As the doctor stepped out of the room to take a phone call, I went to look up Hodgkin’s lymphoma on my phone, my wife said, ‘don’t look it up. I already know what it is.’” Winfield and his wife, Sarah, had only been married a few months. “I thought I only had maybe a couple years left to live. I wondered if we could ever have children,” he said.

Dr. Kushagra Katariya Cardiothoracic Surgeon

Kushagra Katariya, M.D.
Cardiothoracic Surgeon

Winfield was then referred to Pima Heart cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Kushagra Katariya, who got him in right away. “Dr. Katariya was confident he could biopsy the mass and remove it if necessary during one surgery. And he didn’t think it was cancerous. We trusted him wholeheartedly.”

Dr. Katariya said he was stunned when he saw the images of Winfield’s chest. Like all patients with big masses like that, he worried about an assortment of things that could be going on. Was the tumor benign or cancerous? Would it require surgery or a different kind of treatment like chemotherapy?

Just one week later, in September 2015, Winfield was in the operating room at TMC.

“For Ryan, the plan was – let’s bring him in to the operating room, do a small incision and get a biopsy. If it showed lymphoma, we would not proceed with surgery and instead opt for chemo. But if the biopsy showed something that required the mass to be surgically removed, we would do it right then. I told him if that were the case, the surgery may be dicey because of the tumor’s size and placement,” said Dr. Katariya.

The biopsy showed the mass was benign. But it still had to be surgically removed. What Dr. Katariya found when he opened up Winfield’s chest was unbelievable. The tumor was pressing on Winfield’s lungs, which now had huge indentations on them. It had wrapped itself around one of his arteries. And it was pushing on his trachea which is why he had difficulty breathing.

Dr. Katariya was able to successfully remove the mass entirely.

“The tumor was so attached to my heart that Dr. Katariya had to cut the lining on the top of my heart, and did so without any problems – that’s how skilled he was. I feel super lucky and incredibly blessed. I truly believe Dr. Katariya was guided by God. It’s amazing that he got me in to see him so quickly and that luck continued in the operating room.”

The mass was a teratoma that had been growing in Winfield’s chest since birth.

Winfield spent a few days post-op at TMC where he and his wife were amazed at how friendly and helpful the nurses were. “When I was in the ICU, the nurses knew exactly what I needed. I really didn’t think the medical system could be as good as it was,” said Winfield.

Since his surgery, he’s been recovering at home. The hardest part? Being forced to take it easy. He admits it’s been frustrating not being able to help his wife unpack boxes and move furniture as they settle into their new place as husband and wife. Being away from work has been equally difficult. Winfield works at an after-school program playing sports with kids. He’s been cleared to return to work, but won’t be well enough to play sports with them for some time. And he’s thrilled that he got the OK to drive so that he can resume his second job – making deliveries for a dental prosthetics company.

One of his arms still hurts – a side effect of having his ribs pulled apart during surgery – and it still hurts to sleep on his chest scar, but considering what he’s been through, he’ll take it. He’s alive and doing remarkably well.

“As a surgeon, when you care for someone like Ryan, a young person with a long life ahead of them, it really underscores why we do what we do. It gives you a boost of support and motivation to keep doing what we’re trained to do,” said Dr. Katariya.

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Tucson Medical Center | 5301 E. Grant Rd. | Tucson, AZ 85712 | (520) 327-5461
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