She was just 21 years of age but four months into her pregnancy, doctors told Yesenia Ruiz-Rojo she was terminally ill. She had one response: please do everything possible to save my baby.
The young woman was seemingly healthy, but experiencing excruciating abdominal pain-doctors discovered a gigantic tumor covering more than two-thirds of her liver. She was diagnosed with aggressive liver cancer and given two to four months to live, reports the US Department of Defense. Just save my baby, she said.
Ruiz-Rojo was facing aggressive liver cancer and given two to four months to live but she and the medical staff at Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas decided they would try to beat the odds. Four months later, Ruiz-Rojo gave birth to a healthy boy named Luke.
But as Raul Palacios, chief of interventional radiology at Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston, explains, “There was nothing out there we found in conventional medicine that would offer her any hope” of that happening. “We weren’t aware of anything in the past that had been tried successfully before.”
Its size and location made the tumor impossible to remove, while chemo would likely kill the fetus. So experts from more than a dozen specialties decided to try a new treatment, called selective internal radiation therapy with Y-90. By placing tiny radioactive particles into the artery that feeds Ruiz-Rojo’s liver tumor, they hoped to shrink or even kill the tumor, all with minimal risk to mother and baby.
The treatment took six weeks, and Ruiz-Rojo went on to have healthy baby Luke at 32 weeks on Jan. 9; Palacios calls the case “a medical miracle.” Ruiz-Rojo’s own days are likely numbered-she turned down cancer treatments that “would impair the quality of time she has left with her baby,” Palacios says. But “I love spending time with my son; he’s beautiful,” she said over the phone from a hospice center near her family in California. “I’m so thankful for him.”
Here is the beautiful story of mother and baby:
“I love spending time with my son; he’s beautiful,” she said over the phone from a hospice center in California. “I’m so thankful for him.”
She shared a picture of her family on Easter. Her 5-year-old stepson close behind her and with her baby, in a mini suit and tie, cuddled on her lap. Luke, who turned five months old in June, has received the gift of his mom’s care for longer than anyone expected.
Army Lt. Col. (Dr.) Raul Palacios, BAMC’s chief of interventional radiology, calls Ruiz-Rojo’s case “a medical miracle.”
“She told us all she wanted was for her baby to live,” Palacios said. “She was willing to do whatever it took to make that happen.”
Ruiz-Rojo arrived at BAMC in her 15th week of pregnancy. Previously healthy, she had become alarmed by a severe bout of abdominal pain and vomiting and went the emergency room at Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center, Fort Hood, Texas. Tests revealed a tumor covering more than 65 percent of her liver. She was transferred to BAMC two days later.
When BAMC providers heard about the case, they knew the situation was dire. Based on current literature and case reports, a pregnant woman with this type of aggressive cancer hadn’t lived very long, let alone long enough to deliver a healthy child.
“There was nothing out there we found in conventional medicine that would offer her any hope,” Palacios said. “We weren’t aware of anything in the past that had been tried successfully before.”
Unwilling to give up, experts from more than a dozen specialties met to explore every possible treatment option.
Shortly after, Ruiz-Rojo moved to California to spend time with her family and new baby while relatively symptom-free. She has lived there since mid-March creating happy memories her son can view in pictures and videos as he grows up.
“She didn’t want cancer treatments that would impair the quality of time she has left with her baby,” Palacios said.
Ruiz-Rojo’s journey may end soon, but because of a caring team of BAMC providers, her baby now has a shot at a long and happy life, Palacios said.
“I hope someone tells Luke someday how brave his mother was to allow doctors at BAMC to participate in her health,” he said.