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Health Team

Duke gives cancer-stricken baby hope

Posted February 14, 2011 5:30 p.m. EST
Updated February 14, 2011 7:04 p.m. EST

— Duke Children's Hospital has given hope to a Perquimans County family dealing with cancer.

Aleah Sawyer was a few months old when her parents noticed something was wrong. A pediatrician found the girl’s head had grown almost an inch.

Aleah was diagnosed with a grade 4 glioblastoma brain tumor – the size of a grapefruit.

Duke neuro-oncologist Dr. Sridharan Gururangan said the tumor was pushing all of the normal structures in Aleah’s brain to one side. He told the Sawyers that Aleah needed chemotherapy to help shrink the tumor so surgery to remove it would be less risky.

The tumor shrunk, and doctors at Duke were able to remove it during surgery last July.

Aleah, now 16 months old, went through her last rounds of chemotherapy last December.

“She’s gone through all of this great. She is a wonderful little baby,” her mother, Sarah Sawyer, said.

A new MRI scan has shown no evidence of her cancer returning, doctors said.

The brain is moving back to fill the cavity left by the tumor, and Aleah is showing every sign of bouncing back completely.

“She’s amazing. She’s come a long way,” Gururangan said.

These types of tumors are rare in infants, but when they occur, there is hope if treated early.

“The outcomes in those children is much better than it is for adults,” Gururangan said.

She tolerated the chemo and recovery from surgery extremely well – better than adults with the same type of tumor – and without the radiation, which is part of treatment for adult patients, he said.

“We possibly could not have given radiation to this baby. It would have devastated her brain,” Gururangan said.

MIX 101.5 WRAL-FM is holding a Radiothon to raise money for Duke Children's Hospital. It starts Tuesday and runs through Thursday.