Smiling again after surgery to remove tumour from brainstem
Six-year-old Leighnae Lowe could return to school as early as October
By Ceola Wilson
Moments before six-year-old Leighnae Lowe was due to undergo eye surgery to correct muscle restriction, the surgeon postponed the operation.
He quickly realised there was something wrong when he looked into the Bermuda Institute student's left eye.
One day later the MRI scan revealed a large tumour on her brainstem.
The world “just fell out” for her parents when faced with the news that left Wendy Leigh Lowe and her husband Randy lingering in a state of disbelief.
What started out as a day for routine surgery turned into a parent's worst nightmare. “The doctor took one look at her and said ‘no'. He noticed that her eye just wasn't moving right and there was something more to it,” said Ms Leigh Lowe.
They were referred to a neurologist and a MRI was scheduled for the next day.
“She had the MRI and they discovered a brain tumour in the middle of her brainstem; we were in disbelief,” she said.
“I mean we went up for a routine eye surgery and then we found out that our child has a brain tumour, it was just like the world just fell out.”
When Leighnae was five they had concerns about her left eye and what's commonly referred to as a ‘lazy eye'.
They were referred to a specialist in Atlanta, he examined Leighnae and when her eye appeared to be getting worse the operation was scheduled for August.
Once the tumour was diagnosed they were swamped by teams of doctors who sent her brain scans to doctors across the US to determine the best course of action.
They were advised that it was best for them to return home to wait for answers. Family members and friends sent out instant messages requesting special prayers.
About six days later they received a phone call from a world-renowned neurosurgeon who said he was willing to do the surgery at no cost.
Leighnae's father said he was in a state of shock.
“It was just so unreal, the whole time we never had any signs of symptoms of a brain tumour; we had no idea.”
And the worst part of it was not knowing what to do after the MRI because no one could tell them whether the tumour was cancerous at that stage. A biopsy would have to be performed.
“The tumour was in a vital [and] very critical and delicate area of her brain. It was right on the brainstem; that's were everything is.
“There were a lot of doctors coming in and out and the lead doctor was a little unsure,” said Mr Lowe.
“His gut feeling was that he needed to operate, he thought it was a low grade tumour which are not healed with chemotherapy.
The chief neurosurgeon at St Jude's Children's Hospital felt he had an 85 percent chance of removing all of the tumour. He was confident the tumour was benign and not cancerous.
Dr Frederick Boop led a team of surgeons in the six-hour procedure at Lebonheur Children's Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.
“We thought it would be the longest day of our lives but that hospital was amazing!” said Ms Leigh Lowe.
“Every hour on the hour they called from the operating room to let us know. Before we would know it the phone was ringing again and things were going good.
“In the end they removed 90 percent of the tumour, they couldn't touch the remaining ten percent because it was in a spot that was very delicate.
“If they touched it they didn't know what would happen,” she said. “Every three months we have to go and get a MRI to see if it's growing or not growing.”
Leighnae has a good chance of living a normal life.
Her father said they were told: “Sometimes these tumours grow back and sometimes they don't.”
Back home and reunited with her big brother Shelton, 12, Leighnae has about a month of rehabilitation to go.
Asked how she's doing, her mother said: “She's awesome, she's actually made us stronger in our faith.
“Nothing bugs her, she has headaches and she just sits there and doesn't complain.”
In fact, Leighnae sat quietly throughout the entire interview, smiling and listening to her parents. She has a scar across the top of her head, a few inches back from her hairline that's healing nicely and she's feeling good.
Asked if she was ever afraid she said: “Actually I wasn't scared, I'm brave and sometimes I'm spoiled.”
She smiled when asked if she gets a lot of attention at home since the surgery.
“I just thank God for taking us through this whole journey,” said Mr Lowe.
“There was the fear of losing her in the back of my mind but God put me in a place where I felt strong enough to endure this challenge.”
Leighnae's mother said she had no other choice but to hold it together. “I had to be strong, I couldn't lose it for her or my family; but she's the one who actually brought me through this.
“Everyday after the surgery it was like a baby doing their firsts again. She opened her eyes, she spoke, she walked, she said a sentence.”
She insisted what was offered as an act of charity be saved for another child who needs it more.
“She's covered by major medical so I said thank you. We appreciated it but we'd rather see it go to another child who really needs it.
“I have no idea how much it cost but God has been there for us a million times. My biggest fear ever is not to be able to protect my children,” she said.
Provided Leighnae gets a clean bill of health she's expected to be back in school by mid-October.
Sharing time off from work both parents expressed gratitude to their employers.
Ms Leigh Lowe works at Ecosse Limited, her husband is a firefighter with the Bermuda Fire and Rescue Service. They extended a warm thank you to family and friends for all their prayers.
Said Mr Lowe: “The support level has been absolutely amazing, it's been out of this world.”