Ramzi Younis, M.D., UHealth ENT Surgeon
Anthony Hogan, M.D., UHealth Pediatric Surgeon
Sarah Jernigan, M.D., UHealth Pediatric Neurosurgeon
Eric Peterson, M.D., UHealth Neurosurgeon
Brianna Alexe, Patient
Mihaela Bozdog, Mother
Mircea Alexe, Father (Spanish-speaking)
In what could be the first such tumor of its kind in a child under the age of 13, University of Miami Health System surgeons at Holtz Children’s Hospital recently saved the life of a little girl by removing a tennis-ball-sized paraganglioma body tumor from her carotid artery. Despite tense moments in the Jackson Memorial Hospital operating room – UHealth surgeons had to sever the carotid artery to extract the tumor, causing 8-year-old Brianna Alexe to suffer life-threatening blood loss – the surgery was a success, giving Brianna a second chance at life.
Brianna’s journey started with a swelled lymph node on the right side of her neck. Call it mother’s intuition, but Mihaela Bozdog, Brianna’s mother, knew that something was not right, despite repeated assurances from the pediatrician that Brianna simply had an infection. Though Brianna was otherwise healthy, when the lymph node continued to swell, Bozdog took her daughter to the local emergency room. “I knew it wasn’t just a lymph node,” Bozdog said.
She was right. Doctors found a large, uncommon tumor wrapped around Brianna’s carotid artery. This type of carotid body tumor effects one to two people out of every 100,000, and is even rarer in children. Brianna was referred to University of Miami Health System specialists at Holtz Children’s for treatment.
After an initial consultation with UHealth pediatric surgeon Anthony Hogan, M.D., in October, it became apparent that surgery was needed. Without it, Brianna was at risk for stroke, nerve damage and other life-threatening medical emergencies due to reduced blood flow to her brain. However, the surgery also brought serious risks, including death and stroke.
While Brianna was scared, “I cried a lot,” she said, Bozdog said they got to a point after so many tests, needles and appointments that they were ready for surgery and for the crisis to be over.
Ramzi Younis, M.D., an ear, nose and throat surgeon, led the complex surgery on February 24. The day prior, UHealth neurosurgeon Eric Peterson, M.D., performed an angiogram and embolization to close the blood vessels feeding the tumor, making the surgery safer.
When the surgeons realized they would have to cut the carotid to remove the tumor, they were prepared. Additional blood was on hand in the OR, but that did not stop the initial moment of horror when Brianna began bleeding out. “I was covered in blood,” Younis said. “It was very scary. I thought we might lose her.”
However, Younis, Hogan and UHealth pediatric neurosurgeon Sarah Jernigan, M.D., were able to stop the blood loss and continue the surgery. A week later, Brianna was discharged, and the following week she returned to school. This week, Brianna resumed playing her favorite sport – tennis.
To celebrate her return to health, Brianna and her family leave for Universal Orlando on Friday. However, there is one more surprise for Brianna before the promised trip. During the press conference, Brianna will receive a special video message from her favorite world-ranked tennis player.