(MIAMI) — Tammy Gonzalez looked back and forth between the ultrasound monitor and the technician’s terrified stare.
“Is that on me or the baby?” Gonzalez asked, pointing to the mass resting on her unborn baby’s mouth.
Tests confirmed the mass was a teratoma — a large tumor — ballooning from the soft palate of the 17-week-old fetus.
“They told me that type of tumor can grow so fast,” said Gonzalez, 39. “I said, ‘there must be something we can do.”
She was told she could terminate the pregnancy or face the looming risk of a miscarriage.
There was another possibility, but it had never been done before: endoscopic surgery to remove the tumor inside the womb.
“I said, ‘I want to do this,'” Gonzalez recalled. “Let’s do this.”
Two weeks later, Dr. Ruben Quintero, director of the Fetal Therapy Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, snaked a tiny camera and surgical tools through a quarter-inch incision in Gonzalez’s growing belly and into the amniotic sac.
“I couldn’t feel the incision because of the local anesthetic, but I could feel the tube going into the sac,” said Gonzalez, who was awake during the procedure. “It felt like a popping balloon.”
The camera gave Quintero a close-up look at the tumor, allowing him to gauge the risk of cutting it off.
“It was a decisive moment,” said Quintero, who is also the director of maternal-fetal medicine at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. “We went ahead and cut the stem, and sure enough the tumor fell right out.”
Gonzalez, eyes fixed once again on the ultrasound monitor guiding the surgery, watched the tumor slowly float away from her daughter’s face.
‘It was amazing,” she said, voice shaking. “It was like a 500-ton weight lifted off of me.”
The peach-sized tumor was too big to remove through the tiny hole in the amniotic sac, so it stayed, floating in the womb. By the time Gonzalez gave birth to her daughter Leyna four months later, it had shrunk to the size of a Ritz cracker.
“And she’s perfectly fine,” Gonzalez said. Leyna is now 20 months old. “She has a tiny scar on the roof of her mouth. She talks; she drinks. She is my little miracle child.”
On Thursday, Gonzalez returned to Jackson Memorial with Leyna to thank Dr. Quintero for taking a chance. “It was very emotional,” Gonzalez said. “He is lifesaver.”
But Quintero said Gonzalez should share the credit.
“She’s grateful that we offered her this chance,” he said. “But we couldn’t have offered her the chance if she hadn’t had the courage.”
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Meera Senthilingam, CNN
Jacque Wilson, CNN