Mia Sanchez is a vibrant, healthy, energetic, three-year-old who is full of life. She loves to dance and swim and play outdoors.
Looking at her today, you would never know that her journey got off to a very scary start. Before she even entered the world, there was trouble in utero.
“During my pregnancy, I enrolled in a pregnancy study at Columbia that investigated the possible effects of a pregnant woman’s stress, anxiety, and depression on fetal and infant development,” Jasmine says. Her participation in that very study saved Mia’s life.
“Because of the study, at 25 weeks into my pregnancy, I found out that my unborn daughter had a large hemangioma on the back of her neck.” A hemangioma is a benign tumor formed by a collection of excess blood vessels.
Imaging conducted by the Center for Prenatal Pediatrics showed that Mia’s heart was working overtime to feed blood to the tumor. Mia’s heart was pumping rapidly and was possibly headed for failure.
“I remember looking at the images on the screen,” Jasmine says. “I couldn’t help but think, ‘Will she be okay?’”
Mia’s medical team was clear that they could not surgically remove the mass before birth, but they needed to reduce the stress on Mia’s heart in order to prevent heart failure.
Although the oral heart medicine Digoxin was a possibility, they didn’t know if enough of the medicine would cross the placenta to help Mia. But it was worth a try, and soon after Jasmine took the Digoxin, the medication calmed Mia’s heart and allowed her to grow.
On August 5, 2011, Mia was born by elective caesarean section. She weighed 6 pounds and 15 ounces. The large mass of blood vessels was about the same size as her head.
“The doctors told me the mass was really big, about the size of a fist,” Jasmine says. “But actually seeing it in person, I couldn’t believe it. It’s almost like a dream honestly.”
The doctors realized that Mia was in distress at birth and needed mechanical assistance to breathe. The tumor was causing heart failure because of the large amount of turbulent blood flow, which was also affecting her clotting functions.
Although this threatened Mia’s life, surgical removal of the mass was still not an option. Her blood pressure was so high that immediate removal could have caused a brain hemorrhage.
“After Mia was born, I was not able to touch her or feel her close to me. It was very difficult for me because I always wanted to have that special moment, that natural act,” Jasmine remembers. “I was not able to breastfeed her, due to the fact that she had such a big mass on her neck. So at times, I would pump just to give her the nutrition she needed.”
The team knew that they would need to operate soon. But to make it safe they wanted to stabilize Mia with medications that could help stop the growth of the mass and improve Mia’s heart function—and they did.
Jasmine says that whenever she worried or wondered about all the possible outcomes, she relied on the strength of the doctors and nurses at Columbia. “Being in the neonatal intensive care unit, I sometimes felt a bit sad and unsure of whether Mia would be okay. But seeing how the nurses took such good care of her comforted me, and I felt much better.”
Soon after Mia could breathe without assistance, Dr. Meyers plugged the major vessels feeding the mass through coil embolization. This procedure involves navigating tiny instruments through blood vessels to fill the vessels with tiny metal coils.
Then, Dr. Kadenhe-Chiweshe, Mia’s pediatric surgeon, and Dr. June K. Wu, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon who specializes in vascular anomalies, performed the surgery to remove the mass.
Jasmine says that the surgery took almost 12 hours. “I remember Angela (Dr. Kadenhe-Chiweshe) came out after they removed the tumor. I remember hugging her and just having tears in my eyes, because I just couldn’t believe that they did it and that everything went great.”
Seeing Mia after surgery was overwhelming for Jasmine. “Honestly, seeing her in that condition, with all those tubes … I remember just being shocked, but at the same time I was so happy because she was okay. To me, she was a little soldier, because she went through a lot and she made it!”
Mia has gone on to live a normal, healthy, and very full life. “After she was discharged from the hospital, I was getting regular follow-ups with all her doctors—hematologist, cardiologist, neurologist …,” Jasmine says. “After a year and a half, they said that she was okay. She didn’t need any more follow-ups. She’s doing really, really great! What’s left, obviously, is the scar but no signs of the tumor. She’s my little miracle baby.”
Dr. Meyers says, “It is enormously rewarding to participate in a process to save another person from a terrible fate and to see them experience a healthy and happy life.”
Jasmine and Mia were surrounded by a dedicated group of doctors at Columbia. “My daughter would not be here without this team,” says Jasmine.
Mia’s team included specialists in maternal-fetal medicine, obstetrics, neonatology, pediatric cardiology, pediatric surgery, pediatric dermatology, plastic surgery, hematology, and radiology.
“A highly coordinated effort is required to ensure optimal patient outcomes, especially for small children and infants,” says Dr. Meyers. “Working as part of a multidisciplinary team in the Vascular Anomalies Center at Columbia University Medical Center and Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital, allows effective, definitive treatment of complex malformations.“
“I would like to give a big thank you to every nurse and every doctor who participated in Mia’s recovery,” says Jasmine. “I couldn’t be any happier. NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital saved my daughter’s life!”
Learn more about Dr. Meyers on his bio page.
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