A routine checkup led to a life-threatening diagnosis.

By Sam Silverman
Updated: March 15, 2019

When most kids go to the dentist, they get a teeth cleaning and maybe a cavity filled. But during five-year-old Hunter Jones' routine dental checkup, her dentist discovered she had a tumor—which turned out to be cancer.

Now, after spending months in the hospital and undergoing several rounds of chemo and two stem-cell transplants, Hunter is cancer-free.

It all started 18 months ago. Hunter was in the dental chair at the office of Harlyn K. Susarla, DMD, in Everett, Washington. Dr. Susarla noticed that her young patient had several loose teeth, odd for a child her age. So she had Hunter get an X-ray, which showed a tumor in Hunter’s jaw, reported WTVM News.

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"I was freaked out,” Hunter's mom, Kara, told a WTVM news reporter. "I was at the dentist. You don't—tumor? No."

To find out if the tumor was benign or cancerous, the family went to Seattle Children’s Hospital. There, a doctors discovered that Hunter had stage 4 neuroblastoma.

A neuroblastoma is a type of cancer that develops from immature nerve cells. They almost always affect kids age five and younger, according to Mayo Clinic. Neuroblastomas are often found in the abdomen and chest. Additional tumors were subsequently found in Hunter's abdomen and hip, according to WTVM.

To treat such an aggressive cancer, Hunter spent 140 days in Seattle Children’s Hospital. Dr. Susarla's husband, a craniofacial surgeon, was part of the medical team taking care of Hunter and helping her beat the disease.

“We had two tumor removals. We’ve had five rounds of chemo, two stem cell transplants,” Kara Jones said. “We’ve had 12 rounds of radiation, six rounds of immunotherapy.” Despite suffering complications such as hearing loss, Hunter is currently in remission. The Jones family is extremely thankful for the husband and wife doctors who they credit with saving their daughter's life.

After she left the hospital, it was time for Hunter to go back to Dr. Susarla for a dental checkup, which gave the family the opportunity to thank the dentist and for Hunter to present her a handwritten card. 

"I'm so thankful for you," Kara Jones told Dr. Susarla. "You saved our daughter's life."

“I writed ‘I love you,’” Hunter said.

“The fact that this was something that was found in the dental chair—I’m grateful that I saw this and that she was able to get the care and the treatment that she needed,” Dr. Susarla told WTVM. “Honestly, I probably think about her every day.”

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