Isabella O’Connell was just 3 months old when her pediatrician noticed ‘cafe au lait’ spots suddenly appearing on her skin. “The spots were appearing at such a rapid pace” said Isabella’s mother, Melissa Kulak. “Thankfully, he referred us to a neurologist at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center.”
Shortly after being referred, Isabella had her first appointment at Connecticut Children’s Division of Neurology, where she met Dr. Francis DiMario. Dr. DiMario would finally provide the answers Melissa had been waiting for…a diagnosis no one could have expected.
Isabella had Neurofibromatosis, a rare neurological condition which occurs in approximately 1 in 4,000 births each year. The genetic disorder can cause tumors to grow on nerve tissues and even on or underneath the skin.
Following her diagnosis, Isabella experienced very little symptoms as a result of her treatments, but in early 2016 that would all change. The 3-year-old began feeling a pain on her side where she currently had a band of tiny spots. At her 6 month checkup, Dr. DiMario suggested an MRI that would reveal 2 tumors growing on Isabella’s right and left optic nerve.
“From that moment on, we also began seeing Dr. Eileen Gillan of the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders. Dr. Gillan has been keeping a close eye on Isabella’s condition ever since” said Melissa.
Three months after that first MRI, a follow up would discover a new tumor growing at the base of Isabella’s head – a tumor that was causing her severe hydrocephalus. It was more devastating news that Melissa did not want nor expect to hear.
“That 3 month MRI came and our world got flipped upside down. Within a week we had seen Dr. Marcus Bookland of Neurosurgery, scheduled a surgery date, underwent a biopsy and had a shunt placed.”
The procedure was a successful one and Melissa is happy to report that Isabella’s tumors are in fact shrinking as a result of her treatments and medication. She is currently on her third round of targeted chemotherapy. “So far it is working amazingly. We had our 6 month MRI to make sure Isabella’s shunt is working properly and found that her tumors have shrunk quite a bit. She also no longer has any trace of hydrocephalus.”
“In one word I would describe our experience so far as extraordinary. Although, Connecticut Children’s definitely deserves more than one word.”