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Delicate Brain Surgery Removes Child's Tumor, Cyst

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture
Delicate Brain Surgery Removes Child's Tumor, Cyst

It was supposed to be a routine MRI. Little Isabelle Johnson's head was scanned prior to her surgery to have a cyst removed from her scalp. But her mother Linda knew from the look on the neurosurgeon's face the results were anything but routine. And what she and her husband were about to hear was shocking. Her 2-year-old had a brain tumor.

Their surgeon, Holly Gilmer, M.D., chief of pediatric neurosurgery at Beaumont Children's Hospital, admits she was surprised when she saw Isabelle's MRI results. After a consult with the neuroradiologist it was confirmed that deep within her brain, on the pineal gland, was a tumor. The 2-year-old was scheduled to have a dermoid cyst removed, but the discovery of a pineal tumor quickly changed the complexity of the surgery.

Recalls Linda Johnson of Royal Oak, "My husband and I were already concerned about the removal of the dermoid cyst, but when we heard about the tumor it was a nightmare, almost indescribable."

The pineal gland produces melatonin and affects waking and sleeping patterns. It is located near the center of the brain, adjacent to the midbrain.

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Dr. Gilmer explained to the Johnsons that the pineal tumor was about the size of a marble. She and her medical team would not only work to remove the tumor, but they would also remove Isabelle's cyst. A biopsy of both the tumor and cyst would tell them if they were cancerous or benign.

"The surgical approach to remove the pineal tumor was completely different than that of the dermoid cyst. The exposure of the pineal mass required different positioning, invasive monitoring and additional equipment, increasing the surgical and anesthetic risks," explained Dr. Gilmer. "Nevertheless, the pediatric surgical and anesthesia team responded to the challenge with amazing efficiency, composure and collaboration, resulting in the safe removal of Isabelle's tumor and cyst."

After more than four hours in surgery Dr. Gilmer met with the Johnsons. She shared her optimism. They were able to remove Isabelle's pineal tumor. The pathologist believed it to be benign.

Twelve days after Isabelle's surgery, the Johnsons got a telephone call from Dr. Gilmer confirming the tumor and cyst were not cancerous. "April 6 was the day we got our lives back," says Linda.

"I can't say enough good things about the care Isabelle received at Beaumont Children's Hospital," adds Linda. "From Dr. Gilmer and her team to the staff in the pediatric intensive care unit, they were all wonderful and very helpful."

It has been 10 weeks since Isabelle's surgery and like most 2-year-olds she's active and happy hanging out with her big brother, Caleb, and baby brother, Gavin.