Georgia toddler thriving after mass removed from neck


Waiting for a checkup at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, the Westphals' son Bennett shows almost no signs of the medical ordeal he has been through in the last 18 months.

"Right now he loves 'Monsters Inc." and loves Fritos and fruit snacks," says Kari Westphal.  "He's your typical crazy 2-year old boy, into everything."

The Winder, Ga. toddler is a regular here at Children's Healthcare,  now on the other side of an ordeal his mother Kari Westphal says began while she was still pregnant.

"We found out at 18 weeks. We got a phone call that our ultrasound showed a mass or a growth on the left side of his cheek and neck."

Bennett was diagnosed in the womb with a macrocystic lymphatic malformation, a non-malignant mass consisting of fluid-filled channels caused by the abnormal development of the lymphatic tissue.

"In layman's terms, it means (there are) large pockets of fluids that are semi separated by little pieces of tissue," Kari Westphal says.

Children's Healthcare interventional radiologist Dr. Matt Hawkins was concerned Bennett's neck mass was so large, it could block his airway.

"If if the airway is obstructed, the child can die," Dr. Hawkins says.  "They're not able to breathe."

So, months before his birth, the team began planning an EXIT procedure.

Halfway through Bennett's birth by caesarian section on January 29, 2016, the team would have to insert a breathing tube to support his airway.

"So we had two operating rooms," Kari Westphal remembers. "I was under general anesthesia, so my husband couldn't be in the room.  We had, like, 40 doctors."

When Bennett was half-way out of the womb, still attached to his mother's placenta and umbilical cord, the birth team handed him off to another team of doctors.

"Then, they inserted a breathing tube and then finished the delivery," his mother says.Born at nearly 11 and a half pounds, Bennett was big, and so was the mass. But, within hours he was breathing on his own.

"I had Googled so much that I knew it could be a lot worse," Kari Westphal says. "I knew that it could be a lot bigger."

The family would spend the next year and a half in and out of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.

There, Bennett would undergo a series of sclerotherapy procedures, in which Dr. Hawkins and his team would inject medication into the mass on his neck to shrink it. When he was 13 months old in March of 2017, Children's ear nose and throat surgeon Dr. Sivi Baktha performed surgery to debulk the rest of the growth.

"Bennett had a pretty good response with the sclerotherapy," Dr. Baktha says. "But he still had some left over, which I had to surgically remove."

Today, the mass is nearly gone.

"He's looking great," says Dr. Baktha.  "He's growing. He's thriving. He's happy."

"I think that God chooses everybody for a reason," says Kari Westphal. "And (I think) He chose us.  And, I am not going to cry!"

There is a chance the growth could come back. But Kari Westphal says they'll cross that bridge when they get there.


For now, she says, they're grateful, because they can finally move on.

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