It was only with the magic of Disney that this 4-year-old, who wasn’t expected to make it to the new year, received a new lease on life.
Lena Tietjen, 4, of New Jersey, had 90 percent of an inoperable brain tumor removed in a miracle surgery, despite doctors originally giving her just weeks to live.
“She’s smiling, she’s still happy, she’s still fighting, and that’s what we’re really blessed with,” her mom Erin Tietjen said.
She and her husband explained they had believed their daughter, suffering from anaplastic astrocytoma, a rare malignant brain tumor, was on her last days when their family embarked on a trip to Disney World to fulfill her final wish.
They were on their way to the airport and heading home when Lena became so ill that she couldn't fly.
Lena was rushed to Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, where Dr. Samer Elbabaa agreed to try to save her life with a risky surgery.
The surgery was a success. And not only did Lena survive, but her outlook has improved and further scans showed that Elbabaa was able to remove 90 percent of her tumor.
“They saved her life,” Lena's father, Matt, said. “They gave us a chance to, on Christmas morning, wake up and see both our children, open Christmas presents.”
Her mom explained that while Lena’s condition is still precarious — classified as grade 4 glioblastoma, which is one of the most aggressive and malignant forms of brain cancer — the operation was able to give her a chance of survival.
She now has an opportunity to pursue radiation and clinical trials, and further physical therapy is helping her do things other 4-year-olds are able to do.
“Dr. Elbabaa, I think he might actually be an angel,” Erin said. “I really do think that our Christmas miracle was meeting him.”