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Saving Bodhi

Bodhi Heath with his parents, Elizabeth and Cameron, and Dr. Danielle Cameron.

Patient Story

Saving Bodhi

When Bodhi Heath was born 10 weeks early with a tumor on his tailbone, Mass General for Children’s Danielle Cameron, MD, MPH and a pediatric surgical team helped him beat the odds.

Kelsey Abbruzzese
May 27, 2024

When her labor started with her first child, Elizabeth Heath says she was in denial. Halloween is one of her favorite holidays, and she had been delighted that her due date was at the end of October 2023. But it was August, 10 weeks before the baby was supposed to arrive. And there was another major complication: Elizabeth’s doctors had found a sacrococcygeal teratoma, a tumor that forms on a fetus’s tailbone, during her routine 20-week ultrasound. That tumor had grown to about seven centimeters — the size of a peach.

What followed was an emergency caesarean section at Massachusetts General Hospital, the birth of her son Bodhi, a nine-week stay in the Mass General for Children (MGfC) NICU and two surgeries with Danielle Cameron, MD, MPH, to remove the teratoma and reconstruct Bodhi’s buttocks. Six months later, Elizabeth says her initial sense of utter denial has now morphed into immense gratitude.

“Bodhi beat all odds in everything,” says Elizabeth, who lives in her East Bridgewater childhood home with her husband Cameron, Bodhi and her parents. “Without Dr. Cameron and the whole Mass General team, from the NICU to special care, he wouldn’t be here.”

A Heroic Effort

Bodhi’s tumor had ruptured in utero, which likely spurred Elizabeth’s premature delivery. The large size of the mass and its rapid growth also caused symptoms in the latter half of her pregnancy, as she gained 70 pounds in mostly amniotic fluid. Elizabeth could only work about two hours during her shifts at the local Market Basket grocery store because her legs would become numb from the amount of fluid in her body.

Elizabeth went to her local hospital after her water broke and, 30 minutes later, she was at Mass General, where doctors had monitored her condition throughout pregnancy with weekly ultrasounds. When Bodhi’s tumor ruptured, doctors performed the emergency C-section. Dr. Cameron was at the delivery and saw that Bodhi had lost a significant amount of blood.

“He was in critical condition when he was delivered,” Dr. Cameron says. “It was a heroic effort on behalf of all the teams involved — obstetrics, neonatology and the pediatric surgery team —to stabilize him and get him up to the NICU.”

Rays of Hope

About an hour after Bodhi was born, a MGfC pediatric surgery team of Dr. Cameron and Cornelia Griggs, MD, performed the first operation to remove the external component of the teratoma, which had been stealing Bodhi’s blood supply. At this point, the team had done everything they could, and then came the hardest part: waiting for Bodhi to survive to the second surgery to remove the internal part of the teratoma and reconstruct his back.

“Being postpartum and not hearing a crying baby is the saddest thing. Part of you is just missing,” Elizabeth says. “I even said goodbye to him at one point after his first surgery, because we weren’t sure he was going to make it through the night. A nurse said to me, ‘Don’t say goodbye. We’re going to bring him back.’”

Bodhi did indeed come back. A month later, he was ready for the second surgery. Elizabeth and Cameron were prepared for more difficult news after Dr. Cameron operated on Bodhi again. But they found rays of hope: Dr. Cameron had successfully removed the internal tumor and reconstructed his backside. “Dr. Cameron had to essentially build him a bum,” Elizabeth says. “It’s the perfect little baby bum.” Bodhi was also continent, which isn’t a guarantee in these cases.

A Happy, Healthy Little Sidekick

Bodhi is now a healthy 7-month-old, eating solid foods, snuggling his parents and laughing at Sesame Street characters. Elizabeth calls him her little sidekick, and he visits Mass General for Children every few months for follow-up appointments. “He’s always with me,” she says. “I love that kid.”

The family has also discovered happy connections with Dr. Cameron. Dr. Cameron studied philosophy in college, so she knew immediately that Elizabeth and Cameron had selected the name from the Sanskrit word for enlightenment. There was also the match between Cameron’s first name and Dr. Cameron’s last name, and Cameron’s mother’s first name — Danielle.

Bodhi is now a healthy 7-month-old, eating solid foods, snuggling his parents and laughing at Sesame Street characters.

“It felt surreal,” Elizabeth says. “When we went into the first surgery, she told us, ‘I promise, I’m going to take care of him like he’s my own.’ As the relationship grew, it clicked; she really meant that.”

“The multidisciplinary care that Bodhi received, from the moment he arrived in the world, is the perfect example of what Mass General has to offer,” Dr. Cameron says. “On a floor in one tower, a mother can deliver; on another floor, the baby can have an emergent and lifesaving operation. While she was recovering from childbirth, she could visit her son and be integrated in his care from day one.

“One of the reasons I became a pediatric surgeon is I love the dynamic of taking care of young patients and getting to bond with their families,” she adds. “Young and resilient patients like Bodhi are really inspiring. That they can have a life-changing operation and go on to have a normal life is one of the most gratifying parts of the job.”

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