'Miracle kid' thanks surgeons and God for second life without tumor

Imagine what life would be like if two to three cups of blood spewed from your nose, then your mouth. And you started shaking, almost passing out, and had to be rushed to the emergency room. We're not just talking once; we're talking every few weeks.

If you're a young boy, how do you go to school? How do you play sports? How do you have a normal life?

Obviously, you don't.

At least Jerick Paghubasan didn't.

All this Las Vegas boy wanted was to have a normal life. But with a fast-growing tumor pressing against his brain, it was impossible. Until this summer.

That's when a relatively new surgical process at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Children's Hospital was used to remove the benign tumor, by then the size of two baseballs.

It took five surgeries to do the job. Remarkably, instead of cutting through his skull, the surgeries went through his nose, so he ended up without scars.

When I met Jerick in August, he was once again living a normal life. Not a life of luxury, mind you. His sister, Loygie Paghubasan, a cocktail waitress at Arizona Charlie's, is the primary breadwinner for six people: Jerick, herself, her parents, another brother and a sister.

At 36, Loygie is the oldest of seven children; at 12, Jerick is the youngest. Loygie came to the United States from the Philippines in 1989 and has sponsored other members of her family to immigrate legally. Jerick joined his sister and parents in Las Vegas in January 2005.

After his tumor was diagnosed, he received radiation treatments in December. But the nosebleeds became worse, more frequent, more bloody, more debilitating. Jerick became depressed and questioned whether he wanted to go on living, his sister said.

"We had given up hope and nobody believed he was going to make it," Loygie said.

Doctors here recommended that Jerick, a Medicaid patient, be sent to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, which was pioneering endoscopic brain surgeries for angiofibroma tumors typically found in adolescent boys.

Over the past 10 years, surgeons at the center and the Children's Hospital have operated on at least 70 children with tumors, including some that previously would have been considered inoperable, using a procedure called the expanded endonasal approach.

Dr. Carl Snyderman, an ear, nose and throat specialist, and Dr. Amin Kassam, a neurosurgeon, headed the team performing the complicated and dangerous surgeries on Jerick. His tumor was large and pushed against his brain and his eyes, plus the tumor was wrapped around major arteries that go to the brain. This one was going to be a challenge.

Jerick's was unique because of its difficulty, Snyderman said. They had operated before on tumors as large as his, but this tumor was getting a rich source of blood from major arteries.

"It pushed the limits of what we can do," Snyderman said. Juvenile angiofibromas are "common enough that this is a benefit," he said, referring to what was learned from Jerick's surgery.

"Jerick had a dream one night that vampires were sucking his blood, and a superhero fought off the vampires, and the superhero was me. He woke up and found the nurses were drawing his blood," Snyderman said.

To Jerick, Snyderman and Kassam truly are superheroes, Through their efforts, he's regained hope for a normal life. The rest of his Catholic family has a more spiritual view.

"God gave Jerick a second life," Loygie said. "It's a good thing we have this new technology."

Today, Jerick plans to start the fourth grade at Robert E. Lake Elementary, about three years behind his classmates because of his tumor, but eager to catch up.

"I want to finish my school and I want to be a doctor," he said, looking toward a future without nosebleeds.

NBC's "Today Show" has filmed a segment on him and the innovative surgery through the nose that doesn't leave scars. Tentatively, it's scheduled to air Oct. 4.

"We thought we were going to lose him," Loygie said quietly. "Now we call him our miracle kid."

The Paghubasan family is sharing their story so others can have hope.

Nobody wants a life without hope.

Jane Ann Morrison's column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call 383-0275.