My son returned home this week after spending two weeks at Starship undergoing major surgery. It was dicey for a while, as he had a lemon-sized tumor removed from his anterior sternum that was putting pressure on his heart and lungs and which had extended out onto his upper left rib cage. It turns out that he had a mediastinal multilocular thymic cyst, most likely congenital and therefore present since his birth. Normally they atrophy and are absorbed by the age of three, but in his case it apparently kept growing. He was asymptomatic until this past May, when he developed shoulder pain and shortness of breath. After several misdiagnoses and a change of GPs he was referred to Starship in late September, where chest X-rays showed a large mass. Things accelerated from there. It turns out that the shoulder pain was referred pain and common with chest tumors–but one has to know what to look for and the original GPs did not.
Multilocular thymic cysts are extremely rare but fortunately most often benign. There are more tests to be done and even the possibility of further surgery to remove remnants of the mass from his ribs, but the hope is that now that the large hard mass has been removed the rest will stop growing and wither or can respond to drug therapy or some other form of non-surgical intervention. What is amazing is that my son’s left lung had collapsed at some point in the past–maybe even a year ago–but he had continued to play soccer, ride his bike and run cross-country until his symptoms appeared in May. He finally had to stop sports in July while we looked for an answer.
In any event, he is on the mend even if not entirely out of the woods yet. The prognosis is good for the long-term. He is now pleased at his ability to breath and move about pain-free (other than from the chest and drain wounds), He thought that the shoulder pain was just from over-doing it on the monkey bars and that it was normal to be short of breath after exertion. And well one would be on both counts when operating on one lung and a compressed heart.
I wanted to use this post to publicly thanks the medical staff at Starship for saving his life and for the world-class quality of the attention that my son received, both during the surgeries (he had two), during four days in paediatric cardiac ICU and during the remainder of his time on the cardiac paediatric ward (he was there because of the open chest surgery, not his heart per se, because cardiac surgical teams are the best versed in matters of chest surgery recovery). Everything about Starship was first rate, especially the surgical care from the moment the mass was detected to the ongoing post-operative recovery here at home, where the team has called us to check on him and outline a schedule for follow-ups. Above their skills as surgeons, anaesthetists and paediatric nurses, what sets the Starship staff apart if their incredible level of compassion and empathy for their patients as well as their patient’s whanau. My son was on the upper end of the paediatric age group (ten) but the way in which the staff interacted with toddlers and newborns was, from my family and I could see, absolutely wonderful.
If there is an institution to which a charitable contribution can be made, I recommend Starship Hospital simply because it provides world class care and, among all the other worthy causes that can be supported, it is uniquely able to provide an actual physical future for those who otherwise would have none.