When doctors found a very rare tumor on 11-year old Jennavieve Garcia’s” pancreas, it was a collaborative team of experts that helped get her back to being a kid. Dr. Amir Fathi at Community Regional Medical Center joined forces with Pediatric Surgeon Dr. Shannon Castle from Valley Children’s Hospital, and together, they performed the Whipple procedure on Jennavieve.
The Whipple is a complicated surgery rarely done on children. Dr. Fathi’s patients aren’t typically Jennavieve’s age.
He said, “Usually a surgeon like me who specializes in liver and pancreas doesn’t get called by the pediatric surgery colleagues, in terms of operating on a kid’s pancreas.”
But this past winter, Dr. Fathi – who is the Director of the Hepato-Pancreato-Biliary Surgery Department at Community Regional was introduced to Jennavieve by Dr. Castle. Dr. Castle is a pediatric surgeon at Valley Children’s Hospital and found Jennavieve had a rare tumor on her pancreas.
“She had a solid pseudo papillary neoplasm, which is a fancy term for, this is a tumor that was gonna keep growing but, and has the possibility to turn into cancer, but is not cancer,” said Dr. Castle.
Jennavieve said she had been having pain in her stomach since she was in kindergarten.
The young girl said, “I had a bunch of stomachaches and I would always call my mom and have to go to the office.”
Her mother Jessica Luna explains, for years, there was no concrete diagnosis for her young daughter’s pain.
Jessica said, “When we would go to the doctor’s, it was like it was constipation or we need to change her diet maybe she’s lactose intolerant… we were literally changing her diet all the time.”
This past December, Jennavieve’s pain was unbearable and she was rushed to the emergency room at an area hospital, then transferred to Valley Children’s.
Dr. Castle said, “She was having problems with some pain, and having problems where she was actually blocking some of the outflow to her liver.”
Dr. Castle suggested a procedure called a Whipple to remove the tumor from Jennavieve’s pancreas.
“This is a procedure that I did in training, it’s not one that we do very frequently… and luckily I knew that Dr. Fathi did them. He’s a surgical oncologist trained surgeon, so he does this procedure several times a month, which is more than I do… I reached out to Dr. Fathi so that we could do it together,” explained Dr. Castle.
The Whipple is an extremely complex surgery, where multiple organs in the gastrointestinal tract are cut and re-attached.
Dr. Fathi went into depth, “Whipple surgery, old school surgeon’s they used to call it Cadillac of surgery. It is one of the most complex operations that someone can do, especially in the abdominal domain… Jennavieve’s age is something that we have never seen this tumor to happen, I would say less than a thousand cases in the medical literature has been reported.”
Dr. Fathi knows the Whipple, and Dr. Castle knows pediatrics. It was the perfect opportunity for the two to put their talents together for Jennavieve.
“We’re very collaborative in general. I think that we like to work with other surgeons when you have complimentary areas of expertise, and absolutely when it’s the best thing for the children in the Valley,” Dr. Castle stated.
Dr. Fathi added, “This is a great example of city wide collaboration. Someone like me who is comfortable with the Whipple procedure who specializes and knows how to do this, teaming up with someone who operates on kids and knows how to deal with a pediatric patient.”
Jennavieve’s surgery was successful, and the entire tumor was removed. Today, she’s healthy, thriving, and thankful for the job well done by her two surgeons.
“This is a great example that surgeons, doctors can move beyond the red tapes, can push the envelope for the sake of their patients in order to provide the best possible care,” ended Dr. Fathi.