Rare discovery

July 5, 2012 (CHICAGO)

Alexis Guzman is like most young girls, except for maybe the fact she has a pet turtle named Michelangelo, and one other thing - the fourth grader had a tumor on her pancreas.

It was a shocking find, and something Loyola pediatric surgeon Heather Paddock suspects she will never see again.

"Honestly, a pancreatic tumor in anybody less than 50 years old is extremely rare," said Paddock.

Paddock was contacted by a local doctor, who had ordered a CAT scan of the 4th grader's abdomen, suspecting her loss of appetite and stomach pain might be from appendicitis.

On the scan, however, there appeared to be a one-and-a-half inch tumor located on the head of the pancreas.

"I was amazed that she was actually doing as well as she was doing, considering what I was seeing on the scan," said Paddock.

"It hurt sometimes, but then it left, and then came back," said Guzman.

What makes this so scary is pancreatic tumors in adults are particularly lethal because they are usually found in advanced stage.

The good news was that because of Guzman's age, surgeons suspected the tumor was not cancerous. It was also discovered before something more severe had developed, such as pancreatitis or jaundice, but it had to come out.

Surgical oncologist Margo Shoup teamed with Paddock to perform an extensive surgery known as the Whipple procedure.

It involves removing parts of the pancreas, bile duct, intestine, stomach and the entire gallbladder.

"It's a surgery that I do a lot of, but mainly they're in adults," said Shoup. "It's the first time I have done this surgery on somebody as young as nine."

The four-and-a-half hour surgery was challenging, because on a younger patient, the organs and structures are smaller, but surgeons say it was a success, and just a couple weeks later, Guzman was back at school.

The tumor was in fact benign, but because this is something so rarely seen in a little girl, Loyola doctors will be providing details of the case to a special rare tumors cooperative made up of researchers from around the world who are trying to better understand what causes these unusual masses. The goal is to prevent others from having to endure such difficult surgery.

Guzman is now enjoying summer break.

"She's doing good. I mean, she lost a lot of weight - she was real chubby before. Maybe that's because of the tumor," said Guzman's father, Guillermo. "You can see her face more... more bright... more alive."

Alexis Guzman just celebrated her 10th birthday.

Doctors say that there is a slight chance the tumor could return, but they expect her to live a long and healthy life.

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