Kali Buchanan was just 3 years old when she was diagnosed with desmoid fibromatoma, a rare cancer that grew in her left jawbone. The petite, dark-haired girl hadn’t been feeling well; when swelling under her jaw grew larger, her parents, Deanna and Dave, took her to a specialist who diagnosed the lump as cancer. He also recommended that they bring her to University of Iowa Children’s Hospital for care.
“It all happened so fast and was so overwhelming,” says Deanna. At first, doctors thought it was a different type of cancer of the soft tissue, which wouldn’t have been as treatable. The biopsy to pinpoint the type of cancer found that Kali had a desmoid tumor; she was only the second child with this to be treated at the UI.
At this point, the race was on to contain the quick-growing cancer. She had her first and second surgeries in early 2007. “They knew the tumor had penetrated and eaten away through the jaw bone,” says Deanna, “but the aggressive nature of the tumor meant that surgeons had to remove her entire lower left jaw.”
With a third surgery, doctors installed titanium plates and a specially designed craniofacial halo to stabilize Kali’s jaw, which had been rebuilt from two of her rib bones and parts of her pelvic bone.
Kali had another reconstructive surgery in 2008; a year later, in consultation with her local hospital, she started chemotherapy.
Kali is now disease-free.
The diagnosis, her surgeries, and frequent trips to UI Children’s Hospital were tough on the whole family, which also includes sister Kayleand brothers Connorand Cole. The Ronald McDonald House, the Rossi Guest House, and Children’s Miracle Network helped the family stay together while in Iowa City. Kali became especially close to some of the nurses as well as the hyperbaric medicine staff who took care of her when she was in the hospital.
Dave adds, “The Children’s Hospital is a wonderful place. Not only did they do a wonderful job with our children, they did a very clear job of communicating with us. They are top in the nation as far as taking care of our daughter.”
Kali, her sister, one of her brothers, and her father started Tae Kwon Do, the Korean martial arts discipline that combines combat techniques, self-defense, sport, exercise, and philosophy.
In the future, Kali faces additional surgeries to build up the reconstructed bone, as well as years of major dental work, but through it all, it’s good to know what’s coming, instead of facing an uncertain future.
In the end, it all came down to being in the right place. Dave says, “We did a lot of research about Kali’s tumor. We didn’t know if we’d end up in some other part of the country. It worked out so tremendously to have a place less than two hours away, right here, to provide all of our needs with some of the top doctors in the nation to care for her.”
When Candi Buffington gave birth to twins 15 weeks prematurely at Genesis Medical Center in Davenport in July 2006, she and husband Brandon knew their tiny babies faced enormous health challenges. Ty and his sister Lindsay each weighed approximately 20 ounces—about the same as a bottle of soda.
“They were both so small and so fragile,” Candi says. “We were so scared they weren’t going to make it.”
Ty and Lindsay were transported immediately to the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), which offers the most comprehensive, advanced care in Iowa for premature or critically ill babies. Thus began a long “journey” of around-the-clock care for the Buffington children—slow, steady progress but also complications and setbacks. Ty spent the first 448 days of his life in the NICU; for Lindsay, it was 118 days.
“Imagine seeing your babies hooked up to more monitors and machines than you’d ever thought possible,” Candi says. “There were days when Ty was the sickest baby in the NICU. I watched him be resuscitated several times.”
From the start, Ty required numerous procedures, therapies, and medications to help him breathe and gain strength. Ty’s lungs were underdeveloped—a complication of prematurity—so at 7 months old, pediatric surgeons inserted a breathing tube, or trach, connected to a ventilator. Over the following months, the UI medical team monitored Ty’s progress with the breathing machine. They also worked with Candi and Brandon on how to use the equipment and how to help Ty adjust to his new surroundings and stay healthy once he was able to go home. By the time Ty was ready to leave the hospital at 15 months old, his parents felt both knowledgeable and confident.
“They did everything to prepare us,” Brandon says, “They taught us how to manage Ty’s needs and made us believe we could do it on our own.”
At home, Ty gradually became less dependent on the ventilator, and by age 4 doctors closed his trach opening for good. Since then, he’s been making friends at school, taking swimming lessons, and having fun “just being a kid,” his dad says.
Candi and Brandon visited UI Children’s Hospital every day of the twins’ hospitalizations. Lindsay faced her own serious health challenges, including a buildup of fluid in her brain that required multiple surgeries. Ty and Lindsay continue to face medical issues that require specialized care, but they’re making steady progress towards a healthier future.
For the Buffingtons, it’s simple: UI Children’s Hospital “means hope.”
“They never gave up on our twins,” Candi adds. “They explained things to us, sat with us when we cried, celebrated holidays with us, and even threw a party for the kids’ first birthday. They’re amazing.”
“Dr. Klein (Jonathan Klein, MD, medical director of the NICU), nurses like Gloria (Palmer) and Carolyn (Walker), and the entire staff—they’re just a wealth of knowledge and experience and caring,” Brandon adds. “They were determined to do the best for our kids.”