Mom's intuition likely saves daughter's life

By Rachel McNeill - Anchor

HOUSTON - A new mother's intuition likely saved her daughter's life.

Ava Browning weighed 8 pounds, 15 ounces at birth. She then dropped down to 8 pounds, 8 ounces and held steady.

Her mother, Jessica, said, "I kept saying, 'There's something wrong.'"

As a first-time mom, Jessica was told it could be her breast milk or feeding issues, but she refused to brush off her worries.

Jessica said, "I finally went to the doctor and I said, 'Listen, she should've gained her birth weight by now. We should not be wearing newborn clothes at 6 weeks and newborn diapers.'"

She took Ava to Texas Children's Hospital, where, in cruel irony, her worst fears were confirmed.

Jessica recalled, "The first words they said (were), 'We see a mass.'"

Ava was diagnosed with hepatoblastoma, a rare cancerous tumor on her liver.

Jessica said, "The minute I heard blastoma, I knew it was cancer and my heart fell."

There are only 150 cases diagnosed each year in the United States.

Dr. Eugene Kim, a TCH pediatric surgeon, told Local 2, "In a child that's 6 weeks old, this is very unusual. Most of the children are a couple years in age."

Kim was also struck by the sheer size of the tumor. It was as big as a Texas-sized grapefruit.

He explained, "It clearly looks like at least two-thirds of her abdomen was taken up by the tumor."

Jessica remarked, "I had no idea that something that size could even fit inside of her."

Doctors still aren't sure whether Ava's tumor developed in utero or at birth.

Specialists with TCH's Liver Tumor Center first tried a round of chemotherapy, but the tumor didn't shrink much.

So in a bold move for a child just 11 weeks old, the tumor was taken out, intact, amazingly, without much damage to Ava's liver.

TCH pediatric oncologist Dr. Patrick Thompson told Local 2, "You couldn't ask for better results in terms of surgery."

Thompson said Ava will undergo two cycles of chemo and should be just fine.

He added, "I'm extremely hopeful. I think her prognosis is excellent."

Now Ava's regained her appetite, a welcome sign thanks to a mother's intuition.

Kim said, "She did what she could do get that extra level of care, get that extra level of diagnosis, and it really made a huge difference here."

Gazing at her beautiful baby girl, Jessica smiled and said, "They call it a mother's instinct for a reason."

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