Do Medical Miracles Actually Happen? We Asked an Expert How This 11-Year-Old Girl's Brain Tumor Disappeared
She was diagnosed with an inoperable tumor—then it vanished without a trace.
A real-life Christmas miracle is making headlines this week. In June, 11-year-old Roxli Doss was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor that doctors feared would take her life. But just a few months later, it completely disappeared, leaving the Texas girl's medical team baffled.
Doss was diagnosed with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, or DIPG, about six months ago, reported Austin TV news station KVUE. DIPG is a type of cancerous brain tumor that forms in the part of the brainstem responsible for many vital functions, such as breathing and heart rate. It’s extremely aggressive, and its location makes surgery to try to remove it impossible, according to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Massachusetts.
"It is very rare, but when we see it, it is a devastating disease,” Virginia Harrod, MD, co-chief of pediatric neuro-oncology at Dell Children’s Medical Center in Austin, Texas told KVUE. Dr. Harrod is one of Doss' doctors. “You have decreased ability to swallow, sometimes vision loss, decreased ability to talk, eventually difficulty with breathing."
There’s no cure for DIPG, but Doss went through weeks of radiation to try to combat the tumor. Her family held a benefit for her in August, and much of their community came out to show support. Doss’ parents, Gena and Scott, were praying for a miracle.
“And we got it,” Gena told the news outlet.
“Praise God we did,” Scott followed.
Dr. Harrod said the tumor is now completely undetectable. "When I first saw Roxli's MRI scan, it was actually unbelievable,” she told KVUE. “The tumor is undetectable on the MRI scan, which is really unusual.”
Doctors have double-checked Doss’ scan results, but for now, they don’t have an explanation as to how or why the tumor disappeared.
Costas Hadjipanayis, MD, director of neurosurgical oncology at Mount Sinai Health System in New York City, tells Health it’s very uncommon for a DIPG tumor to disappear so quickly. Dr. Hadjipanayis (who is not involved in Doss' case) says it’s equally uncommon for absolutely no trace of the tumor to be seen on an MRI scan. Usually when a tumor like this begins showing improvement, it doesn’t go away completely and doctors are still able to see traces of it.
Doss likely had an extremely positive response to her radiation, Dr. Hadjipanayis believes, which doesn’t happen often but is certainly possible. Having such a positive reaction to the treatment is so rare, it seems to qualify as a miracle in our opinion.
Dr. Hadjipanayis says another possibility is that the tumor was actually a type less aggressive than DIPG. “Many times we don’t do biopsies on these tumors because of where they’re located, so because of that we may think it’s a certain diagnosis but it may be another diagnosis that’s not as aggressive,” he explains, adding that biopsies on the brain stem are becoming more common but are still considered risky.
Doss’ parents, however, told KVUE that they received multiple medical opinions, all of which came back to DIPG. "At Dell Children’s, Texas Children’s, at Dana-Farber, at John Hopkins, and MD Anderson, all agreed it was DIPG,” Scott said.
Regardless, a recovery like Doss experienced doesn’t happen every day, and it’s proof that you can never have too much hope. Now, doctors are watching the girl closely, and she’s continuing immunotherapy as a precaution.
"Every day we still say it,” Gena, her mom, said. “It's kind of our family thing that God healed Roxli."
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