Tennis star salutes girl's courage after UM doctors save her life

8-year-old girl talks about surviving surgery to remove rare tumor

MIAMI – When eight-year-old Brianne Alexe was admitted to the Jackson Health System's Holtz Children's Hospital in Miami, surgeons had a rare case. 

She had a swelled lymph node on the right side of her neck. Doctors later learned that she had a deadly tumor, known as a paraganglioma. It surfaces in two out of every million people each year, according to the National Cancer Institute.

The University of Miami Health System team who had her case had never had a child under 13 years old with the tumor before, according to UHealth. 

In October, Dr. Anthony Hogan, a pediatric surgeon, decided surgery was needed. The tumor was growing into her carotid, the artery that supplies oxygenated blood to the head and neck. There was a risk of stroke or nerve damage.

"We were in great hands," Brianne said during a press conference on Wednesday. "We knew it."

Brianne had two procedures. In preparation for the surgery to remove the tumor, Dr. Eric Peterson, a neurosurgeon, performed a procedure to close the blood vessels that were feeding it. 

Dr. Ramzi Younis, the director of pediatric otolaryngology, led the surgical team on Feb. 24. Younis, an ear, nose and throat doctor, had to sever the artery to remove the tumor.

Younis also had to remove part of the artery. Hogan and Dr. Sarah Jernigan, a pediatric neurological surgeon, helped him to stop the blood loss. Brianne recovered, and the doctors discharged her about a week later. 

The UHealth doctors knew Brianne liked to play tennis. After the saving her life, they celebrated with a video from Romanian professional tennis player Simona Halep. Her favorite tennis player was in town for the Miami Open in Key Biscayne.

"You have been very brave," Halep said in the video.

Brianne was in tears. Halep also encouraged her to "go back on the court and have fun." 

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