Natchez girl healthy after bout with rare tumors
Published 12:06 am Sunday, February 2, 2014
Malia Croom doesn’t know exactly what she has that’s caused her to undergo multiple surgeries, have metal rods put into her spine and be in a neck brace day and night for 8 weeks.
The 5-year-old diagnosed with osteoblastoma simply knows she has “bad bones.”
Malia was diagnosed with the rare form of spinal tumor when she was 3 years old, just four days after her family moved to Natchez from Vicksburg.
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A complaint of upper back pain the morning of July 6, 2012, came as a surprise to her parents, Tiffine and Greg.
“She was a completely healthy baby up to that point, so we had no idea what was going on,” Tiffine said. “We took her to the emergency room twice, and the X-rays didn’t find anything.”
But the pain persisted, and on the next trip to the emergency room in Natchez, Tiffine and Greg got news that began a two-year battle.
“The doctor walked in, took one look at her and said something is wrong,” Tiffine said. “She had started walking funny and limping a little, and he knew right off the bat that something was pressing on her spine.”
The family took a two-hour ambulance ride to Jackson and arrived at Blair E. Batson Hospital for Children at 2 a.m., when doctors began performing tests.
Malia was on her way to surgery 30 minutes after doctors found a mass pressing on portions of her spine.
The first surgery, Tiffine said, was mainly to confirm the doctor’s original tests and to remove whatever they could that was causing Malia pain.
“They did a biopsy, sewed her back up, and we waited for more results,” Tiffine said. “Four pathology results later, Malia was diagnosed with osteoblastoma, and we planned a second surgery to remove what we then knew was a tumor.”
The second surgery, Aug. 3, 2012, removed portions of the tumor, but also a bone in her spine, which was replaced by rods, plates and screws that took the place of the bone that held together Malia’s spine.
The materials left Malia with limited mobility, but she was able to walk pain free.
But the feeling didn’t last long.
A post-operative visit to the doctor in October brought some of the worst news yet.
The tumor had come back, this time, extending from her spine into her right lung.
Malia went in for her third surgery in the same year on Nov. 23.
The family spent Thanksgiving in the Jackson hospital, but thankfully recovering from a successful surgery in which the tumor was removed.
Malia rang in the year 2013 tumor free.
A break from surgeries and hospital visits finally allowed Tiffine and Greg a moment to breathe.
“We had just moved here, so we really didn’t know who to reach out to or what to do,” Tiffine said. “When all this took place, we were still trying to get used to Natchez.”
Tiffine took a leave from nursing to stay at home with Malia, while Greg continued working in finance to provide for the family.
The couple said their faith in God helped the family get through the multiple surgeries and countless trips to the hospital.
“Without God and without our faith, we wouldn’t have made it this far at all,” Greg said. “It showed us we weren’t in control of things, and just had to trust Him and his plan for us.”
That plan took an unexpected turn just months after Malia’s third surgery, when she began complaining of pain again.
The pain grew so bad Malia awoke one morning in April unable to walk.
She was rushed to Jackson for her fourth surgery April 11.
The tumor had returned worse than it had ever been, and doctors were forced to remove portions of her vertebra, which was replaced with more rods, plates and screws.
The last surgery was one of the most difficult ones for the family, Tiffine said, but proved to be worth the trials and tribulations.
Since April 12, 2013, Malia has been tumor and surgery free.
“I have no more bad bones,” Malia recalled saying shortly after the surgery. “I know a lot of people were praying for me, and God is healing me.”
After their battle, Malia’s nurse practitioner told Tiffine about the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
“They had seen our faces so much that they thought to suggest we make a referral to Make-A-Wish,” Tiffine said. “I had never even looked at the program and didn’t know if she would qualify.”
The hospital officials helped prepare the paperwork for Malia, who only had one answer to the question of what place she would like to visit if she had the opportunity.
“They gave her two choices, but she didn’t need two — all she said was Disney World,” Tiffine said, laughing. “She put down Disney World, and they granted her wish.”
Malia, her two siblings, Micha, 1, and Madison, 7, along with her parents are scheduled to arrive in Orlando today for their trip.
The trip, Tiffine said, will be the highlight of a two-year period that was trying for the family, but also brought them closer together.
“All of this has really allowed us to come together as a family,” Tiffine said. “She’s just such an amazing girl because this whole time she’s never let any of it get her down.”