It was September 2010 when Leann Bowman’s pregnancy took a sudden turn.
Leann and husband Jarod were expecting their third child, and things had been progressing normally. A routine ultrasound at 20 weeks brought alarming news: A large mass had developed at the base of their unborn baby girl’s spine.
Immediately the Bowman’s were referred to University of Iowa Children’s Hospital for an appointment the next day. UI specialists diagnosed the mass as a sacrococcygeal teratoma (SCT)— typically a non-cancerous, yet potentially life-threatening, tumor.
“We were at 20 weeks, with 20 weeks to go, wondering whether or not our baby was going to make it,” Jarod says.
The couple met with Graeme Pitcher, MB, BCh, a UI Children’s Hospital pediatric surgeon who had years of experience with SCTs. The Bowmans were understandably frightened, but after talking with Pitcher, they knew they were in good hands.
“He had an overwhelmingly calm demeanor,” Leann says. “He sat with us and explained everything. He waited while we cried and asked more questions.”
Helping Leann reach the 30-week mark of her pregnancy was key to the baby’s development and survival. Leeann returned regularly to UI Hospitals and Clinics for prenatal care.
There were complications, however. The benign tumor continued to grow, potentially depriving the baby of blood and nutrients necessary for healthy development. Leann also had too much amniotic fluid, and the medical team detected an abnormal buildup of fluid around the baby’s heart.
UI specialists performed four separate procedures to drain Leann’s excess amniotic fluid. During the fifth procedure, at 31 weeks pregnant, she went into labor.
Brynn was born via C-section on Dec. 6, 2010, and rushed to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Thirty-six hours later, Pitcher and the pediatric surgical team removed the two-and-a-half pound tumor. It was a delicate, five-hour procedure, but the operation was a success.
For the next several weeks, Brynn remained in the NICU as doctors and nurses closely monitored her recovery. Christmas Eve 2010 was especially poignant as the Bowman family—including Brynn’s sisters, Jayda and Lilly—spent the night together at the hospital. With each day, Brynn made remarkable progress.
“Dr. (Jonathan) Klein and the entire NICU team were amazing,” Jarod says. “Everybody is there to help, and they’ll do anything it takes.”
Just before New Year’s Eve, Brynn was transferred to a hospital closer to home. After one month, she was able to go home for the first time.
Brynn may face additional health issues as she gets older, so she returns to UI Children’s Hospital for follow-up care. But for now, the toddler continues to impress her doctors and nurses—and her parents—with her strength and attitude.
“The sky is the limit for that one,” Leann says with a smile. “Nothing is going to hold her back.”