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FAMILY NAMES: Sonja, Christina, Danielle, Emily

PROFESSION: General Counsel, AeroFarms

PET: Brody

NEIGHBORHOOD: Hill Section, Chatham Township

How are you involved in the Community?

Was coach, room parent, CCD teacher, other volunteering across three children and collectively 30 years of Chatham Education.

How have you survived during the Pandemic? Tell us your story.

Each of us got COVID early in the pandemic, and my wife Sonja – a Winston School educator – experienced a job loss as well. We became insular through the summer, focusing on family and keeping to the family shore house for activities like boating and fishing. In spite of challenges, one daughter succeeded in junior year at Villanova as a biochemistry/neuroscience major with A’s, another daughter landed a highly coveted rotation at UPMC and became a Child Life Specialist, and our third got engaged, planned a wedding, and was married May 16 outside at the shore with all friends and family attending. Through this all, my wife was a constant source of patience, perspective and perseverance.

What can you tell the neighbors about the importance of keeping healthy?

I am the poster child for early detection. My physicals over the years yielded commentary such as “you have the fitness of a man half your age”. False praise for my lifting/swimming/running/dieting regime in that what lies beneath the surface is what will get you. A simple hand tremor and quick slur of speech, that passed in seconds, was the only indicator I had that something was wrong. Had my wife not seen and heard me, I’d have brushed it off and moved on. In spite of my overall health – heart, blood, eyesight, etc., that one sign was the result of a tumor. Had I not sought the care of medical professionals at AHS, I’m told I likely would have lost eyesight, sense of smell, and motor skills on the right side of my body. So, yeah, when something feels different, get checked out.

Local Dad’s Journey to Survive

Chatham resident Mark Boyland went from brain tumor-induced seizures to white water sports in seven weeks.

“I don’t have time for this.” That was the first thought that crossed Mark Boyland’s mind when he was diagnosed with a skull base brain tumor. With a high-powered legal career, hobbies like waterskiing and paddle boarding, and an equally active family at home, it was hard for Mark to fathom slowing down.

Mark was used to having a clean bill of health and being the type of person who never even catches a cold. That started to change when he began experiencing episodes where he would zone out – which he learned later were seizures. In one in- stance, Mark was working at home and his wife, Sonja, noticed something was off. His typing came to a noticeable stop as his right arm cramped up, and when she asked if everything was ok, his speech was noticeably slurred.

Sonja insisted Mark get medical help and his three daughters agreed. At urgent care, the doctors told Mark he was having a stroke. He went immediately to the ER, but they couldn’t find any real symptoms of a stroke. It wasn’t until he had an MRA scan – a special type of MRI – that a brain tumor, specifically a frontal lobe meningioma, became part of the discussion.

brain tumor

[From L]: Neurosurgeons, Ronald Benitez, MD and Yaron Moshel, MD, PhD at Overlook Medical Center

Mark’s first call was to his Chatham neighbor Ronald Benitez, MD who is the chair of endovascular neurosurgery at Atlantic Health System’s Overlook Medical Center and a neurosurgeon with Altair Health.

“I knew Ron personally but more importantly, I knew about the group’s outstanding reputation,” notes Mark.

“I knew that I needed to see a brain surgeon, and I quickly learned there are many kinds of brain surgeons, just as there are lawyers, each of them specializing in treating different parts of the brain,” says Mark.

Dr. Benitez connected Mark with one of the leading brain tumor surgeons in New Jersey, Yaron A. Moshel, MD, PhD, who happens to also live in Chatham.

“There are a lot of uncertainties when it comes to brain tumors, but when a mass starts impinging on the brain and affecting someone’s life in any way, as in Mark’s case, it’s a telltale sign it needs to be removed,” explains Dr. Moshel, who also serves as co-director of Overlook Medical Center’s Gerald J. Glasser Brain Tumor Center.

“Dr. Moshel was not only incredibly knowledgeable and methodical, but also very empathetic. He’s the kind of guy everyone wants to be around,” explains Mark. “Still, I made it a point to get second opinions from some of the big-name hospitals in New York City. That’s what everyone’s told to do when they get news like this, so I did my rounds in Manhattan. Surprisingly, I was told to wait six months and see what happens.”

Two days later, Mark was presenting in front of a room full of colleagues when he became disoriented, started slurring his words and fading out. He excused himself, got in his car to head home and realized he no longer knew how to operate the vehicle.

It was clear treatment couldn’t wait. That’s when Mark returned to see Dr. Moshel.

“Dr. Moshel’s first instinct to remove the tumor as soon as possible was 100 percent right,” says Mark. “It was abundantly clear he had the specialized expertise that my situation called for and that he wouldn’t just treat me like a number.”

“If Mark had waited to be treated, he could have reached the point of developing intractable epilepsy,” ex- plains Dr. Moshel. “Additionally, if the tumor grew, it would have compressed his optic nerves, leading to vision loss, and affected his frontal lobes, which are important for high-level cognitive reasoning and are especially important for a lawyer.”

Mark Boyland returned to his hobbies just seven weeks after brain surgery to remove a skull base tumor.

After walking Mark through various approaches for treatment, Dr. Moshel performed a craniotomy, working through the base of the skull to access otherwise hard-to-reach areas of the brain without disturbing healthy tissue. He successfully re- moved the tumor, including unwrapping parts of the tumor from around Mark’s optical and olfactory nerves.

“Although the skull base approach sounds more aggressive than a traditional craniotomy, in reality, it is less invasive to the brain, which is what matters most. The skull base can be reconstructed; the brain cannot,” notes Dr. Moshel. “In fact, this technique was a key factor in allowing Mark to recover and get back to his regular life so quickly.”

Mark’s support group of friends and family has helped carry him through both the Pandemic and his treatment.

Following a four-day hospital stay and a surprisingly short recovery, Mark was ready to spring back into action. He was cleared by occupational therapy and physical therapy on day one and returned to work just four weeks later. He was in such great mental and physical shape after the operation – which he credits in large part to Dr. Moshel’s skill – that he picked up skateboard land-paddling and surf-skiing just seven weeks after surgery and was back on the ocean in no time.

“The personalized care I received was simply outstanding,” adds Mark. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without it.”