ATLANTA - Rachel Lembeck is an easy kid.
"She just shines,” says her dad Gabe Lembeck. “She's a happy little girl."
Watching the Dunwoody 2-year old with her brothers Micah and Noah, you seen no sign of the storm she's weathered.
"I actually found out the day Rachel was born, that something might be wrong,” says Rachel’s mom Alyson Lembeck.
It was June of 2013, Alyson was 36 weeks pregnant, going in for a routine screening.
"The ultrasound tech was looking at the ultrasound and kept circling around and circling around,” Alyson says. “And I was like, 'Is everything okay? This is not normal."
The doctor sent her to a specialist,
"That ultrasound tech actually looked at it and said, ‘Oh, my gosh! You baby has a tumor on her arm, and it’s the size of a lemon.’” Alyson remembers.
As Alyson and Gabe rushed to Northside Hospital, the baby's heartrate was dropping.
"And my OB came in and said we're going to have an emergency c-section,” says Alyson.
That's when doctors discovered Rachel's tumor, which was full of blood vessels, had burst, and she was bleeding heavily. They started pushing blood back into her umbilical cord.
Gabe stood in the OR, stunned.
"You could look at the doctors and the nurses and they were, like, they had a look in their eyes like, 'I've never seen this,’” he says.
"If she was born a half hour later, 20 minutes later, she would not been here today," Alyson says.
Transferred to Children's Healthcare of Altanta at Scottish Rite's neonatal ICU, Rachel was diagnosed with a rare type of cancer known as infantile fibrosarcoma, a fast-growing cancer of the soft tissue.
"It was terrifying,” says Gabe.
She became one of AFLAC Cancer Center oncologist Dr. Karen Wasilewski’s youngest patients.
"Chemo is always a scary thing for anyone,” Dr. Wasilewski says. “But I think for parents, especially, it's scary when you're talking about giving it to your newborn baby."
But Wasilewski knew Rachel's type of cancer was incredibly sensitive to chemotherapy, but they needed to move quickly. So, at 10 days old, they gave her the first dose in the NICU.
It worked almost too well.
“It shrunk up so quickly that the tumor was probably like a thumb in a dyke,” says Dr. Wasilewski. “And it literally shrunk before their eyes and it started bleeding out.”
Rachel's life was on the line, again.
"But this time, “ Alyson says, “they said, 'Her veins are shutting and we can't get the blood back into her."
She asked them to transfuse the blood through her umbilical cord, her belly button.
"And they said, 'She's 10 days old. A baby that is 10 days old, the umbilical cord is completely shut,” says Alyson.
Desperate, they tried it anyway. It worked.
"And (they) essentially saved her life, that night,” says Dr. Wasilewski.
In her first four months, Rachel went through six rounds of tough chemo
"She would just look up and smile,” says Alyson.
Two years later, Rachel is still smiling.
A pediatric hand surgery rebuilt her arm, leaving her with full function in both her hand and forearm. And test no evidence of cancer. The easiest kid in Dunwoody -- is doing alright.
"She's been a fighter since the day she was born,” says her mom. “And she'll always be a little fighter and a miracle."