NEW HYDE PARK, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — A Long Island girl who underwent a rare surgery not long ago returned to the hospital Wednesday to thank her doctors.
Elizabeth PetitFrere of Brentwood had trouble eating and even breathing a couple of months ago.
“We thought it was asthma,” her father, Joseph PetitFrere, told CBS 2’s Carolyn Gusoff.
In January, it became so hard to breathe, the eighth grader called 911 herself.
“I felt like I was just going to die,” she told Gusoff. “I wasn’t eating as well and eating a lot.”
Doctors at Cohen Children’s Medical Center, part of the North Shore-LIJ Health System, couldn’t believe what they saw inside and outside of her windpipe.
Elizabeth had a golf ball-sized tumor blocking almost all of her airway. Doctors said had she waited a few more days, Elizabeth likely would not have been able to swallow or breathe at all.
“She was breathing only through this portion of her airway, a tiny little straw. And the tumor was blocking about 95 percent of the airway,” said pediatric otolaryngologist Dr. Lee Smith.
In a complicated nine-hour surgery, doctors removed the tumor which turned out to be benign but aggressive.
Doctors said it was probably growing for years.
The tumor is so rare that there are only 50 reported cases in children, Gusoff reported. Doctors said the surgery was fraught with risk because of how close it was to her vocal cords.
“If one is not careful, those very endings get damaged and then the vocal cords do not work,” chief thoracic surgeon Dr. David Zeltsman said.
“When I look at the video all I can say is wow,” Elizabeth’s mother, Marie, said on Wednesday.
Elizabeth returned to Cohen Children’s Medical Center three months after her surgery to thank the doctors and indulge in a meal she thought she may never get to eat again, shrimp fettuccine alfredo.
She’s gained weight, has a barely visible scar on her neck and delivered a hug and words of thanks to the doctors who saved her voice, her windpipe and her life.
“I’ll always remember you forever,” Elizabeth said.
Elizabeth still can’t raise her voice and she can’t sing, but her doctors said they can strengthen her vocal cords in a year when she is fully healed.
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