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Not Again: A 6-year-old girl fights back after second surgery for spinal tumors

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Article originally published March 28, 2011.

Written by Leslie Bridgers

Photography by Michael G. Seamans

Scroll to bottom for link to article and photo gallery.

Not Again: A 6-year-old girl fights back after second surgery for spinal tumors

NOT AGAIN: A 6-year-old girl fights back after second surgeryfor spinal tumors

BY LESLIE BRIDGERS Staff Writer

BOSTON — It wasn’t what they wanted to hear.

Melissa Logan watches as Jaidyn covers her eyes early in the morning at Childrens Hospital Boston before going into surgery to have a cancerous tumor removed from her spine. Jaidyn has already been down this road almost 18 months prior to have a tumor removed from the same spot on her spine.

Melissa Logan visited Jaidyn’s class at Atwood Primary School in Oakland to help her classmates understand the cancerous tumor she suffers from. Here she shows the scar from the previous operation to remove a cancerous tumor.

Just minutes before 5-year-old Jaidyn Logan-Oakes went into surgery, her grandparents got the worst news since they found out another tumor had grown around her spinal cord.

In the pre-operative holding area on the third floor of Children’s Hospital Boston, pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Michael Scott laid out the risks of taking out the tumor, called a low-grade astrocytoma — a type of brain tumor that’s found in about eight Maine children every year and recurs in some patients. Jaidyn had the same type of tumor removed about four years earlier.

Scott’s biggest concern was nerve damage, he told the grandparents. She could lose permanent control of her hands or feet.

And then there was the possibility of total paralysis.

The little girl, who was running on the deck of the hotel swimming pool the night before, might never walk again, they learned.

At 7:30 a.m. on Oct. 25 last year, Jaidyn rolled away on a hospital bed, and her grandparents, Dan and Melissa Logan of Oakland, started waiting.

“It’s scary. Is she going to be able to walk? Is she going to be normal?” Dan Logan said after his granddaughter was taken into the operating room. He looked to the other parents scattered among the couches and chairs in the waiting area. Some slept; others read magazines.

“As sad as it is, there are people in here that have it three times worse,” Logan said. “Then you wonder, is there really a God?”

‘THEY’VE BEEN THROUGH HELL’

Jaidyn and her grandparents had driven from Oakland the day before. They left around noon, after saying good-bye to her two younger brothers, Jusiah and Caylub, who were 4- and 2-years old at the time. Everyone was crying, Logan said.

“(Jusiah) said, ‘If Jaidyn dies, will she still have cancer?’ I said, ‘Jaidyn’s not going to die,'” said Logan.

On their way down, they stopped in Saco for a break. When they got to Kittery, Jaidyn told her grandfather to turn around.

“She said, ‘Grampy, I don’t want to go to surgery,'” he said. “She knows what she’s facing.”

Logan kept driving, though, and they checked into the Hampton Inn on Massachusetts Avenue in Boston around 3 p.m.

After dinner at LongHorn Steakhouse — macaroni and cheese and a hot dog for Jaidyn — she insisted on going for a swim in the hotel pool.

The dimpled blond, in underwear and a SpongeBob SquarePants T-shirt, splashed around the shallow end and swung from the railing on the stairs.

“Once in a while she’ll say she’s scared,” said Logan. But mostly, he said, she doesn’t talk about the surgery.

It was hardly the first hardship Jaidyn had faced in her five years. After having a cancerous tumor removed when she was 18 months old, she underwent chemotherapy treatments every Tuesday for more than a year at Maine Medical Center’s Children’s Cancer Program in Scarborough. She felt weak and tired all the time, her grandmother said.

But even when Jaidyn’s health improved, her home life remained unstable.

Not long after the first surgery, Dan Logan said, her mother, who struggled with substance abuse, lost custody of the children. He said the children have had more than a half-dozen different guardians since then.

“They’ve been dragged around so much,” Melissa Logan said. “They’ve been through hell.”

In July, the children moved in with Dan Logan, their maternal grandfather, and his wife Melissa — Grampy and Mama Grammy to Jaidyn. The couple officially became the children’s foster parents a few weeks before Jaidyn’s second surgery.

“People think they got it hard,” Logan said as he sat on the deck of the hotel pool. He shook his head, talking about the relatively minor problems that seem to upset people.

“They ain’t got it hard, no way,” he said.

GETTING READY

It was still dark out the next morning when they walked from the patients’ parking garage to the entrance of the hospital, where a row of pastel-colored pillars stood like giant crayons.

They had been at Children’s Hospital last April, a few months after an MRI showed that Jaidyn had a new tumor. At an appointment with Dr. Scott, he determined the tumor wasn’t big enough to remove yet. But another MRI last July showed that it had grown, and the surgery couldn’t wait much longer.

On the morning of the operation, the Logans checked into the hospital and sat down among other parents and children. Jaidyn, with two tiny black clips in her hair and miniature bags under her eyes, walked in circles around a fish tank in the middle of the waiting room. Dragging her fingertips along the glass, she did laps around the tank until her name was called.

A nurse brought her into an examination room, where she checked the girl’s blood pressure and took her temperature. The routine was something Jaidyn was used to, her grandfather said.

After she was cleared for surgery, Jaidyn and her grandparents walked into the hallway and waited to go to the pre-operative area. While Jaidyn hopped from tile to tile in the corridor, Melissa Logan sat by a windowsill and started to cry.

“It’s OK, Mama Grammy,” Jaidyn told her.

Soon, the nurse came into the hallway and held out her hand toward Jaidyn.

“Are we ready?” she asked the girl.

THE OPERATION

One in every 1,000 children is diagnosed with cancer, which translates to about 12,000 children in the country per year, said Dr. Stanley Chaleff, a pediatric oncologist at Maine Medical Center in Portland.

Of those children, about 4,000 have brain tumors and just less than half of those are astrocytomas. The Maine Children’s Cancer Program treats about 50 children with cancer every year and seven or eight usually have low-grade astrocytomas, like Jaidyn, said Chaleff, who specializes in neuro-oncology.

The placement of Jaidyn’s tumor — on the spinal cord rather than the brain — is particularly rare and difficult to operate on without causing nerve damage, Chaleff said.

After learning just how risky the surgery would be, her grandparents were more scared than ever before.

“I just want to run away,” Melissa Logan said.

Still, they found comfort in knowing who was performing the operation. Scott, the chief neurosurgeon at Children’s Hospital, is also a Harvard Medical School professor. Dan Logan had checked out his credentials online.

“They say he’s the best,” Logan said.

Scott told them that the surgery would likely last into the evening. So, once Jaidyn left for the operating room, they set up in a circle of cushy chairs at the end of a long, narrow waiting area lined with windows looking out onto a city street. Logan plugged in his laptop and logged onto Facebook to update friends and family about what they’d heard.

“After seeing her as healthy and happy as she is, to see her in a wheelchair just wouldn’t be right,” Logan said.

Every couple of hours, a family liaison from the hospital came out into the waiting area with news of how the surgery was progressing — they’re making the incision now; she’s doing fine.

Then something happened around 3 p.m., and the surgeons had to stop.

Jaidyn was still on the operating table when Scott came out to the waiting area to talk to her grandparents. Dressed in scrubs, he knelt on one knee next to their chairs. There was good news, he said; the tumor was essentially benign. But during the operation, Jaidyn lost feeling in her right leg. He didn’t know if she’d be able to move it when she woke up.

“In 48 to 72 hours, we’ll get a better idea,” Scott told them. “We’ll have to cross one bridge at a time.”

It wasn’t until 5 p.m. that the Logans got to see their granddaughter. Lying in the intensive care unit, she told her grandfather that her leg felt like it was stuck to the bed.

But, as Dan Logan was kissing his granddaughter’s face — her cheeks as red as a Raggedy Ann doll’s from lying face-down on the operating table — he saw her wiggle her toes. Then she moved her right foot. A few minutes later, she went to roll over and picked up her entire leg.

“It was joy,” Logan said. “She’s a fighter and that just proves it.”

HOMECOMING

A siren sounded from an Oakland police cruiser waiting in a parking lot with dozens of other cars, as Jaidyn and her grandparents drove off the Sidney exit. Four days after her surgery, they were almost home.

The parade of some 40 cars followed them for the last few miles — from Sidney, through the center of Oakland, to her home on Bonnie Avenue. They parked on the lawn and filed through the house to shake Jaidyn’s hand as she sat on a recliner in the living room.

For about a week after that, her right leg would give out every once in a while, Logan said, or she’d complain that she couldn’t feel her foot. But those symptoms soon went away, and she returned to Atwood Primary School, where she’d started kindergarten a few months earlier.

Since then, Jaidyn celebrated her sixth birthday in December. For Christmas, she got a child-sized snowmobile and was out riding it right away, Dan Logan said. In April, the entire family is going to Disney World.

“If you looked at her today and watched, she’s like a normal kid. You’d never know anything was wrong,” he said.

But Jaidyn’s battle isn’t over. There’s a real chance the tumor will grow back. She could have to undergo the same surgery every three years for the rest of her life, Logan said. Sometimes the tumor could just need to be removed; other times it could require chemotherapy, the doctors told him. Regardless, he said, it’s scary.

“Every time they go in to do something there’s always a chance something could happen,” Logan said.

Chaleff said astrocytomas recur in 30-40 percent of patients, but the chance of a tumor coming back decreases with age. Repeating surgeries in the same area, however, poses its own problems.

It’s more difficult to operate through scar tissue, he said, making nerve damage more likely.

Jaidyn’s next MRI is scheduled for August. If nothing has changed, her grandmother said, she won’t have to go back to Boston for another year.

For a patient like Jaidyn, all doctors can do is continue to watch her closely, Chaleff said, and “let her be a kid.”

Written by michael G. Seamans

April 12, 2011 at 7:31 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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