As the first African American female podiatrist to become board certified in foot surgery in the United States in 1993, Dr. Tina Oliver has been in practice for 32 years. Her desire to become a doctor came from watching her uncle who was a physician.
Dr. Oliver also had a strong interest in her science classes growing up and was always intrigued with how things work, which is what led her to the field of medicine. “I chose podiatry specifically after I was already on a pre-med track in undergrad… I had the opportunity to shadow a podiatrist in my hometown Port Arthur…He was telling me about the field, how we can work on patients, perform surgery, and can help people.”
On April 17, 2022, Dr. Oliver’s life changed when she had an unexpected aneurysm. On Easter Sunday, she woke up and was supposed to help with directing the choir at her church, but she didn’t feel well and decided to stay home. Later, Dr. Oliver was going to go grocery shopping with her daughter and when was getting dressed, she felt herself sniffling like she was having allergy issues, but when she blew her nose, she felt “an explosion or something go off” in her head. “It was a total surprise because I am a pretty healthy person and I work out,” she stated.
Dr. Oliver had a friend who had an aneurysm 20 years prior, so she suspected an aneurysm based on her friend’s experience. “The pain was just like a headache that you’ve never had…and with an aneurysm, timing is ultimate. The quicker you can get something done, the more successful your survival rate is,” she mentioned
When she arrived at the hospital, they took her back immediately for a brain scan based on her symptoms. She was nauseated and had diarrhea, “which are symptoms of an aneurysm that people aren’t aware of because we don’t talk about it all the time.” The results of the scan showed she had a bleed, which needed to be dealt with immediately. They had to rush her to another hospital so that she could see a neurosurgeon.
They had to perform a procedure that required them to drill a hole in her head so they could put a drain in to relieve the pressure. While she was going through all of this, her 18-year-old daughter was there by her side. “I call her my little warrior because she actually gave them all of my history, told them what I was allergic to, and she had to sign my consent forms because I was not able to do it myself.” At the age of 18, her daughter had to make some hard decisions regarding her medical care and the route the doctors would have to take in order to save her life.
The procedure took seven hours, and when it was completed, the doctor told her that everything went well, and she was in the hospital for a little over two weeks and then started the rehabilitation process. She started off in a wheelchair and lost a lot of weight but was able to get out of the bed alone within three days, and then started to use a walker. Eventually, she was able to walk without a walker again.
Prior to the aneurysm, the only thing she had going on medically was some lab work that was a little off. While she was in the hospital for the aneurysm, she had them check her parathyroid gland, and when she went back to the doctor for her follow up appointment from brain surgery, the doctor told her they found a tumor. With this news, she now needed an endocrine surgeon to remove the tumor.
In April of this year, Dr. Oliver had two brain surgeries and the parathyroidectomy where they took the tumor out and found it was benign. “The doctor told me that it was possible that the tumor on my parathyroid threw off everything else in my body, which could have caused the aneurysm.” The doctor also told her that she may have been born with the vessel and at some point, “that’s how people find out they even have an aneurysm by the time it ruptures.”
After she started recovering from the parathyroidectomy, she started sneaking in to see one or two patients to “see how it would feel to get back to work.” By the first week in August, she returned to MD Anderson and Memorial Herman and started working three days a week at different places to regain her strength, and now she has been back for over a month.
When reflecting on everything she went through, Dr. Oliver said, “It’s a blessing. It’s amazing. It’s miraculous just because of how it happened.” She further mentioned how if she didn’t know someone who had gone through what she went through, she would have “brushed off the symptoms,” but having background knowledge helped her and ultimately, saved her life.
Because it is Brain Aneurysm Awareness Month, Dr. Oliver wants people to know that if you get a bad headache and your vision is impaired, and if it’s just something that’s different, don’t wait immediately. “People need to go to the emergency room and get checked out because time is of the essence,” she expressed.
From her experience, Dr. Oliver has learned to take breaks and plans to travel as she was once a workaholic stating, “Life is short. We need to learn how to take care of ourselves.”
Dr. Oliver has done great thus far in her career and was recognized last year by the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation during Black history month. For more information about Dr. Oliver and her practice, you can visit astrofootcare.com.