In what could be the first such tumor of its kind in a child under the age of 13, University of Miami Health System surgeons at Holtz Children’s Hospital recently saved the life of a little girl by removing a tennis-ball-sized body tumor from her carotid artery.
Eight-year-old Brianna Alexe’s journey started with a swollen lymph node on the right side of her neck. Call it mother’s intuition, but Mihaela Bozdog, Brianna’s mother, knew that something was not right, despite repeated assurances from the pediatrician that Brianna simply had an infection. Bozdog took her daughter to the local emergency room. “I knew it wasn’t just a lymph node,” Bozdog said.
She was right. Doctors found a large tumor wrapped around Brianna’s carotid artery. Brianna was referred to University of Miami Health System specialists for treatment, where she first saw pediatric surgeon Anthony Hogan, M.D.
Hogan said Bozdog did everything right and encouraged other parents to follow her lead. “Whenever lymph node swelling persists after a few months, you need to explore the cause further,” he said.
Doctors decided surgery was necessary. Without it, Brianna was at risk for stroke, nerve damage and other life-threatening medical emergencies due to reduced blood flow to her brain. However, the surgery also brought serious risks, including death and stroke.
Ramzi Younis, M.D., an ear, nose and throat surgeon, led the complex surgery, and neurosurgeon Eric Peterson, M.D., performed an angiogram and embolization to close the blood vessels feeding the tumor, making the surgery safer.
During the eight-hour surgery, pediatric neurosurgeon Sarah Jernigan, M.D., said she and the team realized the tumor had begun growing into the carotid artery, which meant they would have to cut the carotid to remove the tumor.
“We monitored Brianna’s brain activity as we removed the carotid artery,” said Jernigan, to ensure the brain wasn’t being deprived of oxygen, causing brain damage.
In addition, they were prepared with additional blood in the OR, but that did not stop the initial moment of horror when Brianna began bleeding out. “It was very scary,” Younis said. “I thought we might lose her.”
However, Younis, Hogan and Jernigan were able to stop the blood loss and continue the surgery. A week later, Brianna was discharged.
“It’s going great,” Brianna said. “I’m back in school, and I feel wonderful.”
Brianna and her family will celebrate Brianna’s return to health at Universal Orlando.
However, there was one more surprise for Brianna before the promised trip. Brianna received a personal video message from her favorite professional tennis player, Simona Halep, currently ranked fifth in the world.
While watching the video, Brianna broke down in tears, later adding that she intended to watch the video “100 times” on the way home.