A 17-year-old who was told she had months to live after being diagnosed with an incurable brain tumor while seven months pregnant has given birth to a healthy baby girl.
Dana Scatton delivered a four-pound six-ounce baby one month premature after undergoing several rounds of radiation to halt the progression of the rare brain tumor that she was diagnosed with before Christmas.
There is no cure for the disease and after doctors gave Dana just three months to live, she planned to deliver early and then immediately start treatment so she could live to see the first nine months of her daughter’s life.
However, the cancer began taking over Dana’s motor functions prompting her to start treatment sooner than planned, but after several rounds she continued to deteriorate which led to an emergency c-section.
Dana gave birth to Aries Marie on January 4 who has been in the neonatal intensive care unit but began eating and breathing on her own.
The new mother will celebrate her 18th birthday tomorrow in the hospital as she continues to fight for her life but said of her daughter’s birth: ‘The battle has already been won.’
Dana will continue to undergo radiation therapy five times a week while adjusting to life as a new mother.
Though she was nervous to begin radiation while pregnant, starting the treatment early could have extended her life by six months.
While Dana has shown symptoms of the brain tumor including difficulty breathing, sleeping and swallowing, the radiation is meant to stop them from getting worse.
Her symptoms have started to regress and Dana has now gained the ability to move her left arm and leg by herself again, something she couldn’t do last week.
Dana has diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG), a cancerous tumor that starts in the brain stem, the part of the brain just above the back of the neck and connected to the spine.
The tumor is inoperable and surgery to obtain a biopsy is unsafe due to its location.
The brain stem controls breathing, heart rate and the nerves and muscles that allow us to see, hear, walk, talk and eat.
Dana told Daily Mail Online last month that by end of November she started to experience difficulty speaking, which had become strenuous.
‘I noticed that it took me a little to swallow, then walking got harder and it was even hard to speak,’ Dana said.
She said things got worse in the beginning of December when she went to catch the bus to take her to school and her legs began to feel limp, leaving her too unable to walk properly.
At first the college student thought it could just be stress from the pregnancy and school.
‘I thought it could be the way the baby was sitting on nerves,’ she added.
Less than two weeks after her initial symptoms, Dana told her doctor what she was experiencing during a routine visit to check on the baby.
She was in the emergency room the next day where she underwent a cat scan and MRI that found a large tumor on the base of her brain.
Within hours of the MRI doctors delivered the diagnosis and prognosis.
Dana said the first thing that went through her mind when she heard the diagnosis was: ‘Is my baby going to be okay?’
Her mother Lenore, 51, told Daily Mail Online she had a similar thought: ‘Am I going to lose my baby?’
Because Dana was pregnant, there was hesitation to begin radiation that could prolong her life to nine months if started immediately. Without treatment doctors gave her two to three months to live.
WHAT IS DIFFUSE INTRINSIC PONTINE GLIOMA (DIPG)?
Diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG) is a rare an inoperable type of brain tumor.
It mostly affects children, with most diagnoses occurring between five and 10 years of age. More than 90 percent of its victims will die within 18 months of diagnosis.
Each year, there are around 100 to 150 new diagnoses in the United States.
The cause of the tumor remains unknown.
Symptoms include lack of facial control, double vision, headaches, vomiting, weakness, seizures and balance problems.
One of the early indicators of the cancer is a child falling, tripping or losing balance.
Cancer itself rarely affects a growing baby directly but having cancer while pregnant can be complicated for both the mother and child due to aggressive treatments.
Radiation can harm the fetus in all trimesters so doctors generally avoid using this treatment during pregnancy.
The therapy uses high-energy x-rays to destroy cancer cells. The risks to the baby depend on the radiation dose and the area of the body being treated.
A fetus is most at risk for birth defects such as stunted growth, deformities and abnormal brain function from radiation exposure within the first trimester.
However, so far baby Aries appears healthy and is breathing and eating on her own.
A Facebook post said: ‘She’s got super strength just like her mama!’
The teen who danced for 13 years and played soccer and basketball continues having difficulties with everyday tasks.
‘I can’t do as much for myself anymore, like not being able to put my pants on without probably falling,’ Dana said.
While the prognosis is devastating, she remains hopeful. ‘I’m not going to go by what they say, I’m expecting a miracle,’ she added.
Most diagnoses of DIPG occur in patients between five and 10 years old.
It is unknown what causes the tumor and doctors do not believe the pregnancy had an impact on the diagnosis.
Symptoms of the tumor include lack of facial control, headaches, weakness, seizures, balance problems and ultimately death.
‘Sometimes it gets harder to walk and it is strenuous because my muscles are always working,’ Dana said.
Radiation is the most common form of treatment to kill cancer cells and stop the tumors from growing.
The treatment provides a temporary cure to extend life, but does not fully rid the body of the disease.
The news of Dana’s diagnosis has been devastating to her and the family, according to Lenore.
She said: ‘We’re in kind of a daze. Your mind is going a mile a minute and it’s hard to absorb the things they tell you at the hospital.’
Both Lenore and Dana’s father Robert have taken time off of their jobs at Amazon and a YMCA to take care of their daughter full-time.
Dana is the youngest of nine children between her mother and father.
The support from family and friends has been overwhelming and Lenore said that since Dana’s brother JJ took to Facebook and made a GoFundMe for medical expenses, people from around the world including Ukraine and Germany have reached out to send their prayers and support.
Dana said: ‘I just want to be a wonderful mother.’