St. Louis baby diagnosed with rare brain tumor survives after surgery

Published: May. 19, 2023 at 5:49 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS (KMOV) - A St. Louis baby was given a life-threatening diagnosis before she was even born, when doctors found a tumor on her brain.

In March of 2020, single mom Emily Murray did IVF to start her family. Murray got pregnant with her daughter Elizabeth the day before the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down.

At a routine ultrasound just weeks before her due date, doctors found a mass on the baby’s brain.

“It really always felt like things were going to be okay in a strange way, as dire as they actually were,” Murray says.

Elizabeth was diagnosed with a very rare congenital brain tumor, and they were immediately set up with fetal care team at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

“We weren’t able to get a diagnosis because she was so small, because of where the tumor was in her brain,” Murray says.

In November of 2020, baby Elizabeth was born.

Doctors said she was too small to get the tumor removed immediately.

As parts of her health declined, she had the operation when she was 5 months old.

The tumor was the size of a grapefruit.

“We said hold on a second how much of the tumor did you get and she said oh we got the whole thing,” Murray says. “You talk about moments where you need a minute. That was a moment when I needed a minute.”

Doctors at Children’s say patients with a brain tumor that develops in utero have a 7-12% survival rate.

Elizabeth’s neurosurgeon Dr. Jennifer Strahle says injury to any part of the brain during surgery could have led to a stroke.

“There are really only a few cases of tumors like hers that had successful treatment and survival,” Dr. Strahle says. “In the beginning, while we were understanding how the tumor was acting, what kind of tumor it was, we were dealing with a very serious diagnosis for Elizabeth.”

Murray says the tumor was in the center of Elizabeth’s brain, meaning doctors weren’t sure what kind of neurological impact it would have.

But over the last few months, her cognitive development, speech and fine motor skills have skyrocketed.

“All of those aspects of her development are on par with kids her age and actually the therapist in recent assessment her cognitive is ahead of kids her age,” Murray says.

Now two-year-old Elizabeth is still working on her strength in physical and occupational therapy after also being diagnosed with mild right-side cerebral palsy.