For Angela and Matt Carnahan of Urbandale, Iowa, late summer 2005 was a time of joy as the couple awaited the arrival of their second child later that fall.
Angela’s pregnancy was proceeding normally, but a routine ultrasound test at 24 weeks showed a troubling abnormality: a tumor located at the base of the unborn baby girl’s tailbone.
“The tumor extended all the way up into her ribcage,” Angela recalls. “It filled her whole abdomen.
“We couldn’t believe it.” Angela’s doctors in Des Moines monitored the benign tumor–known as a sacrococcygeal teratoma–and removed it three days after baby Brynn was born in November 2005. Several months later, they performed a procedure to reposition ureters, or “tubes,” that carry urine from Brynn’s kidneys to her bladder.
Within a month of being home, however, Brynn developed a serious urinary tract infection. In fact, in the months that followed, Brynn was continually fighting illness.
“She was struggling,” Matt says. “She’d get sick, we’d go to the hospital, we’d get her medicine, and we’d think it would be over. But the infections kept coming back. Eventually, they inserted a central line so we could give her antibiotics around the clock at home.”
“This went on for months,” adds Angela. “We knew the tumor had caused damage to her bladder and kidneys, but we didn’t know specifically what that meant. Brynn couldn’t stay healthy. There didn’t seem to be any answers.”
When Brynn was nearly 18 months old, the Carnahans’ pediatrician referred the family to University of Iowa Children’s Hospital, where pediatric urology specialists ordered a series of tests to aid in Brynn’s diagnosis. They found that nerve damage from the tumor made it difficult for Brynn to completely empty her bladder, which led to the recurring infections.
The UI specialists proposed a treatment plan–called clean intermittent catheterization– for Angela and Matt to administer at home. It involved the temporary placement of a catheter several times each day to drain Brynn’s bladder. The parents would insert another catheter twice daily to deliver antibiotics directly into the bladder to fight infection.
“This was all new to us, but we put our trust in UI Children’s Hospital,” Angela says. “They had the specialists who pinpointed the problem and found a solution. They taught us how to do the procedure properly and were always available if we had questions.”
Angela and Matt continued the catheterization treatments for two years. The urinary infections stopped. Shortly before Brynn’s fourth birthday, the family was given the “all clear” by her UI medical team.
Future health complications could occur, so the Carnahans return to UI Children’s Hospital for annual follow-up tests. But Brynn is a healthy, bubbly girl who loves art, dogs and cats, music, dancing, and spending time with sister, Avery.
“Brynn enjoys life,” Matt says. “Whatever she decides to do as a teenager or adult, I think it’s going to be great. She has endless possibilities.”