The antibiotics weren’t working. A month of painful ear infections left a little girl in tears and her mother in search of answers.
The scary truth was that 20-month-old Skylar Jacobson had developed a cancerous brain tumor the size of a golf ball. It had wrapped around the cranial nerves.
Skylar’s pediatrician immediately referred her to University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital in April 2001.
“By the time we got her down here, things were bad,” Paula Kuhl, Skylar’s mother, recalls. The tumor was self-feeding and had grown large enough to cause hydrocephalus, or a buildup of fluid on the brain.
UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital pediatric neurosurgeon Arnold Menezes, MD, flew directly from an out-of state conference to look at Skylar’s brain MRI and other tests. Skylar’s condition was much worse than Menezes anticipated. He cautioned the family that it would be extremely difficult to remove the entire tumor during surgery.
Menezes and the surgical team first needed to relieve the pressure inside Skylar’s skull caused by the excess fluid in the brain. The next week, Menezes went back in to remove the tumor while the family gathered and prayed for their little girl. Eight hours later, Skylar’s parents heard Menezes say, “Well, we removed it.”
Paula sat in disbelief, asking over and over again what he meant until it was confirmed that Menezes carried out a complete removal of the tumor with only a tiny spot of residual tumor remaining.
“There is no doubt in my mind that if Skylar would have gone somewhere else for her care, the outcome would have been different,” Paula says. “We might still be sitting here, but she might not. That’s how strongly I feel that he saved her life.”
On Skylar’s second birthday, she began high dose chemotherapy treatment. Each of the three rounds lasted 15 days, knocking out Skylar’s immune system until a stem cell transplant could strengthen it again. The Pediatric Bone Marrow Transplant Unit became Skylar’s second home, and the hospital staff became her family. Paula recalls that whenever they approached UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital for an appointment, Skylar would point and say, “Home. We’re home.”
“The extra care they took not only made it easier for Skylar but made the burden of a mother’s heart a little lighter,” Paula says.
Today, Skylar is a healthy teenager who’s active in dance and gymnastics. She also enjoys playing piano, getting lost in a book, and living life to the fullest.
“Skylar probably has a little more mature outlook on life and a little better grasp on what’s important,” Paula says. “I don’t ever want her to lose that little bit of insight that she’s gained.”
She hasn’t. After reflecting on her experience at UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital, Skylar says, “To the doctors and nurses, I would just like to say thank you for everything you’ve done, and thank you for letting me live.”