A newborn baby is fighting for her life after having a massive tumor removed from her belly.
For the past two weeks, the family of Leighton Sanders has been keeping vigil at the 8-week-old's bedside at Seattle Children's Hospital.
Leighton's mother, Keenan Sanders of Kirkland, Washington, said she noticed something was wrong about two weeks ago when her daughter's stomach appeared distended. She thought it might be an allergy or indigestion.
"It appeared swollen instead of just chubby," said Sanders. "[I thought] 'This has to be more than gas.' It wasn't huge. It was just kind of puffy."
An X-ray revealed that Leighton had a massive tumor inside her abdomen. Doctors planned to wait a few weeks to remove the tumor, but it started to grow so quickly that they moved the surgery up. By the time they were set to operate, the tumor had grown from the size of a softball to the size of a cantaloupe, according to Sanders.
After a 12-hour operation to remove the tumor, Leighton's weight dropped from eight and a half pounds to five and a half pounds. Doctors also removed her gallbladder, intestine, and parts of her stomach and pancreas, which had been damaged by the tumor.
Sanders and her husband, Dave, remain at Leighton's bedside hoping she will continue to gain weight and get stronger.
"As long as I have a piece of hope, there's something I can hang on to," Sanders said. "There were a couple days where it seemed her best case scenario was so dismal. It was just crushing."
One bright spot of news for the family is that the massive tumor was found to be only five percent cancerous. Doctors believe it's unlikely that Leighton has cancer in her body, since they removed 99 percent of the tumor, Sanders said.
However, complications from Leighton's surgery and the removal of many of her digestive organs have left Sanders still on edge.
"I had forgotten we had come [to the hospital] for cancer in the first place," she said. "That became the best case scenario, that it's just cancer."
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While Leighton's cancer is hopefully under control, her road to recovery will be far from smooth. Doctors will need to perform additional procedures to close up her original surgical wound and create a drainage system since she's missing part of her digestive tract. And she'll eventually need a multiple organ transplant to reconfigure her digestive system.
"It seems miraculous to me that they can essentially build a human. That's the end result we're hoping for," said Sanders. "It would be a miraculous normal life considering where she is right now."
Sanders said she's remained at the hospital for almost the whole ordeal, in part because she's been unable to go home and face seeing Leighton's room along with her dresses and bassinet as she continues to receive treatment in the neonatal intensive care unit.
Family and friends have pitched in and helped to take care of the Sanders' son, 4-year-old Logan. And a high school friend started an online fundraising site to help cover additional hospital costs. The site has already raised more than $17,000.
But Sanders and her husband have learned to focus on the present before thinking too far into the future. She said there have been rough days but Leighton has proved to be a fighter.
"Her vitals look really good and she's breathing very strong, and it's pretty crazy she's got this fight in her," said Sanders. "She's a redhead, so we're not surprised."