JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Surgeons removed a rare brain tumor from a 12-year-old Cambodian girl who was being cared for by a Christian school for the disadvantaged in Phnom Penh.
Buntheep Chun began experiencing vision problems in October while staying at the Cambodian Christian Arts Ministry. A local optometrist diagnosed her with lazy eye and gave her glasses, but her vision continued to worsen.
Tests showed she had a tumor filling her head, said Gioia Michelotti, the school's director, who accompanied Buntheep to the United States.
"The doctor said, `If you don't get her across the ocean for help right away, she may not make it at all. She is going to die,'" Michelotti said Wednesday.
After pleading for donations and help finding treatment, she and Buntheep boarded a flight from Phnom Penh to Chicago. They eventually made it to Wolfson Children's Hospital in Florida, where doctors and nurses offered to donate their services. The procedures would have cost about $1 million, hospital officials said.
Buntheep was diagnosed with a giant cell granuloma, a rare, benign tumor that had gotten so large that it had broken through the bones protecting the brain.
"Her condition was quite serious. She was blind in her right eye, her left eye vision was deteriorating, and she had a large tumor occupying the space in front of her brainstem, pushing on all the major blood vessels to her brain and the nerves to her face," said Dr. Philipp Aldana, a pediatric neurosurgeon.
On. Dec. 6, a team of doctors and nurses performed 20 hours of surgery. The procedure called for removing her forehead, the upper part of the eye sockets, base of the skull, nasal bones and sinuses and the back of the septum, just to reach the tumor.
She was released to Ronald McDonald House on Jan. 11, but will spend about three months in Florida so doctors can monitor her recovery. The child has regained most of her vision in her left eye and doctors are hopeful that the right eye will also improve.
Buntheep was 3 years old when her father, a soldier, was shot and killed by a thief who took his motorcycle. Her mother had to eventually sell their home to get money for food and clothing. They became homeless and she was sent to live with relatives. When she was 9 years old, she and her older brother were taken to Cambodian Christian Arts Ministry School.