Wife’s persistence leads to diagnosis of rare tumor


Austin Bunch is glad his wife, Kelsey, was persistent in making him seek answers to his medical issues.

It was finally determined this spring that Austin had a vestibular schwannoma, also called an acoustic neuroma, a noncancerous tumor.

“I had a golf ball-sized tumor on my brain stem removed,” the Carmel resident said.

Austin, 29, had the surgery in May, which removed 98 percent of the tumor. He said he still might need targeted radiation therapy.

“It’s really, really rare. Like in the entire nation, there’s less than 20,000 cases a year,” Austin said. “Two years ago, I just woke up and noticed that my hearing on my left side was gone. That progressively got worse and worse. And then I used to also get these pains in my neck.”

So, Austin began seeking treatment. In April, a brain MRI was performed, and a doctor told him about the size of the tumor and that he should have surgery within the next two weeks.

Kelsey said previously he went to ear, nose and throat specialists and they prescribed hearing aids.

“Even at the doctor’s appointment, (I said) my biggest fear is just that it’s a brain tumor because I have a lot of anxiety over medical things because of my history,” said Kelsey, who overcame a battle with thyroid cancer five years ago. “The doctor was like, ‘No, not a chance (it’s a brain tumor). That is a very low probability.’”

But Austin kept getting weird pains in his neck, mostly when he was lifting something heavy. Kelsey encouraged him to get checked again, and he was referred to a neurosurgeon.

“The neurosurgeon said he didn’t think it was anything, but we mentioned our daughter (Amelia) was born in February, and he said, ‘Well, you’ve already hit your out-of-pocket max, so let’s go ahead and order an MRI since you probably won’t have to pay for it, but I’m 90 percent sure it’s nothing.’”

The MRI revealed a different story. The tumor started in Austin’s ear canal, which is why he lost his hearing. He is completely deaf on his left side and has lost about 10 percent of his hearing on the right side.

“I think it’s important to always trust your gut,” said Kelsey, who pushed Austin to seek answers to the hearing loss and neck pain.

After the surgery, Austin was in intense pain and got so sick from the medicines he lost 20 pounds in four or five days.

Austin said he had excellent care at Goodman Campbell Brain and Spine, where his doctor was based. The surgery was performed at Ascension St. Vincent in Indianapolis.

“Goodman Campbell has been super supportive, and really helpful,” he said.

Austin also recounted great support from his family and Fidelity Investments, where he works as a financial consultant.

“They even set up a Meal Train where people three times a week brought us home-cooked meals,” said Austin, a Purdue University graduate. “Our neighbors pitched in and mowed my lawn. All of this just happened really fast. I was really amazed at how well people came together in a really short time, especially for the people that I was essentially like a stranger to in the beginning.”

The couple moved to Carmel in 2018 and then moved to Virginia Beach for a year and returned to Carmel in 2021.

In 2022, Kelsey had to have surgery to have a fallopian tube removed because of a large noncancerous tumor on her ovary.

“Because of the scar tissue we were told there was a strong possibility we couldn’t have kids,” Austin said. “Then a few months later we found she was pregnant. We feel like we’ve had equally good and bad things happen to us.”