Grateful patient gives back to USC
In 2007, 37-year-old Charmean Neithart had much to be grateful for: a wonderful husband, three small children, a comfortable home in Pasadena and a busy interior design business.
But then she encountered a health issue that threatened everything in her life.
Neithart began to experience vision problems, severe headaches, dizziness and a constant ringing in her ears. An MRI revealed that a small tumor had formed at the base of her brain stem, a very delicate, critical area that controls breathing and heart rate, and regulates the central nervous system.
She learned that she had a cavernous angioma, a malformation of blood vessels in the brain or spine. Neithart began researching her condition and its treatments, and all of the specialists she spoke with pointed her in the direction of Steven Giannotta, professor and chair of the Department of Neurological Surgery at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.
Three weeks after her initial diagnosis, Neithart underwent surgery with Giannotta to remove the tumor. The surgery was considered dangerous because of the location of the tumor; survivors are often left visually impaired or paralyzed.
“There were more risks than I can recount,” Neithart said. “I knew about all of them, but for me, I would rather deal with the risk than the fear of something that could get you at any moment. And I just felt so comfortable and confident with Dr. Giannotta that I knew it would be OK.”
The surgery went well, and Neithart made a full recovery. Immediately after the surgery, Neithart and her husband, Robert, donated $150,000 toward Giannotta’s research as a token of their appreciation.
In the fall of 2011, the Neitharts made a more substantial gift of $1 million to establish the Stroke and Cerebrovascular Disorders Center at the Keck School, for which Giannotta serves as director.
“He saved my life and he saved the quality of my life,” Charmean Neithart said. “Only someone like Dr. Giannotta could have done this and have it turn out as well as it did. It’s purely a testament to him and his skill as a surgeon.”
According to Giannotta, the establishment of the center will allow him and his team to take an ongoing and more comprehensive look at vascular malformations.
“The spectacular thing to me is that a couple so young, who are still building their family, still building their careers, would stop and think about philanthropy at a very early stage in life,” Giannotta said. “And philanthropy at this level — it’s just remarkable.”