News from Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center

Seated on a hay bale next to a trailer covered with a checkered cloth, Donna Blake holds several ears of corn. It’s the farm stand where she and her husband sell the fresh produce they’ve grown.

Donna suffered mysterious blood pressure spikes and pounding headaches before her surgery with Dr. Michael Kropilak at Fort Sanders Regional.

Blake is just happy to be able to enjoy farm life again after her surgery at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center for an uncommon condition. Today her health is restored, and she’s able to enjoy her grandkids and the home she has shared with her husband for more than 40 years.

Unexplained Symptoms

“Several years ago, I started having blood pressure spikes,” Blake says. “I would be walking or sitting and it would just spike, then it would drop way down to normal or below.”

The blood pressure spikes and rapid heartbeat often came with a pounding pain in the back of her head. Premier Surgical Surgeon Michael D. Kropilak, MD, says Blake was suffering the effects of a pheochromocytoma, a rare tumor of adrenal gland tissue.

“She had a tumor that can give you significant hypertension, and it can make you feel really bad,” Dr. Kropilak says. “It secretes chemicals like epinephrine and norepinephrine, causing blood pressure to go up.”

Dr. Kropilak says many people who have these tumors are never diagnosed because the symptoms are so much like those of other conditions. Blake lived with the symptoms for almost five years before her family doctor helped her solve the medical mystery.

Dr. Michael Kropilak of Premier Surgical Fort Sanders

A CT scan revealed a mass on Blake’s adrenal gland, and her family doctor sent her to Dr. Kropilak at Premier Surgical Fort Sanders.  While pheochromocytomas are uncommon, Dr. Kropilak knew exactly what to do.

“The interesting thing with this one is that you actually have to give medication before you operate to block the chemicals that the tumor’s secreting,” Dr. Kropilak says. “In surgery, when you touch the adrenal to remove it, you’re going to have to dissect it a little. You don’t want [the patient’s] blood pressure to go up.”

A Minimally Invasive Procedure

Dr. Kropilak was able to remove the mass with laparoscopic surgery, a minimally invasive method of surgery that he’s used since 1991. In most cases, the patient can return home within a day of the surgery. Recovery is quicker, too.

“The adrenal gland sits on the kidney and it’s way in the back,” Dr. Kropilak says, “so it’s nice to know you can go in through small incisions and actually remove the adrenal tumor, and do it almost like you’re doing a laparoscopic gallbladder surgery.”

High blood pressure can lead to critical health problems like heart disease, stroke and diabetes. That’s why discovering and removing the tumor was so important.

Today, Blake’s blood pressure spikes are gone, and so are the intense headaches that came with them. Her blood sugar has also returned
to where it needs to be.

“He did it,” Blake says. “He got it done laparoscopically, it was a great success, and I was really pleased with his expertise.”

Dr. Kropilak says that Fort Sanders Regional offers many types of complex surgeries, and primary care physicians can provide referrals for patients. Blake has undergone surgical procedures in Nashville in the past, and says it was a relief to be able to have this delicate surgery so close to home.

Blake has very simple advice for anyone who may be suffering “mystery symptoms” like hers: “Just go to a good surgeon, like I did!”

To request a consultation with a Premier Surgical surgeon, visit