Jessica Jones’ Powerful Story
Temporarily removing organs to completely remove cancer.
Jeffrey D. Wayne, MD Melanoma and Sarcoma Surgery
Shilajit D. Kundu, MD Urologic Oncology
Nevert Badreldin, MD Maternal Fetal Medicine
Duc Thinh Pham, MD Cardiac Surgery
Juan C. Caicedo Ramirez, MD Transplantation Surgery
Mark K. Eskandari, MD Vascular Surgery
This was more than just aches and pains.
Jessica had always been healthy and active, and as a mom to an energetic little boy, she was constantly on-the-go. After finding out she was pregnant again, she was blissful — it all felt like a wonderful dream. When she began having some shortness of breath, a common pregnancy symptom, she didn’t think much of it. But at a routine checkup with her OB-GYN, Jessica realized she needed the assistance of a walker, leading her physician to believe something more serious was happening. She immediately sent Jessica to the Northwestern Memorial Hospital Emergency Department.
Her entire world turned upside down.
Initially, Jessica’s symptoms resembled those of a pulmonary embolism, a condition in which one or more arteries in the lungs become blocked by a blood clot. But further testing and scans revealed something much more serious: a worrisome mass that stretched from her heart to her hip.
Northwestern Memorial Hospital is home to the top-ranked cancer program in Illinois for 10 straight years,* and as members of the Northwestern Medicine Sarcoma Conference, Northwestern Memorial Hospital Chief of Oncology Shilajit D. Kundu, MD, and Surgical Oncologist Jeffrey D. Wayne, MD, regularly consult with their colleagues about patients like Jessica. During the weekly meeting, oncologists, pathologists, surgeons, radiologists and other hospital staff review cases to inform diagnoses and create innovative treatment plans for patients who have or may have a sarcoma. After the team reviewed Jessica’s scan and biopsy, the reality of what was happening in her body was clear.
Her dream became a nightmare.
At 29 weeks pregnant, Jessica was diagnosed with a leiomyosarcoma — a cancerous tumor — on her vena cava, the biggest vein in the human body, stretching from heart to hip. The tumor had also developed a blood clot that extended into her heart. A tumor of this type and size needs to be removed right away, but because Jessica was still months from her due date, the baby needed more time to develop and grow. Jessica and her team decided to patiently wait a few more weeks for surgery, giving her baby the best chance to thrive outside of the womb.
I’ll never forget. It was very point blank: This is life or death.
*Northwestern Memorial Hospital by U.S. News & World Report, 2022–2023
Only the right people could take on what was ahead.
Building a team of experts.
Northwestern Memorial Hospital Chief of Oncology Shilajit D. Kundu, MD, knew that Jessica’s team needed to be assembled quickly. He immediately called Vascular Surgeon Mark K. Eskandari, MD, who reviewed Jessica’s scans and felt confident in his expertise to remove the aggressive tumor.
I helped build this team of experts within Northwestern Medicine who I know are the best at what they do.
There were two hearts at stake.
Delivering baby Julia.
Not many mothers have to make the difficult decision to give birth at 31 weeks. But Jessica was running out of time to give herself the best chance of survival. With trust in her team, she went into the operating room for a C-section, and her baby girl was delivered by Maternal Fetal Medicine Specialist Nevert Badreldin, MD. The operation went smoothly, and one important piece of the puzzle was in place. Jessica and her husband named their baby girl Julia, and even though she was born nine weeks early, she was remarkably healthy.
Ultimately, her C-section went very well, but there was still a lot of uncertainty moving forward.
The tumor had progressed.
After Julia was born, another scan of Jessica’s abdomen revealed that the tumor had progressed by a few centimeters, a startling amount of growth in just a few weeks. Surgery to remove it would be long and complex, but Jessica and her family had no other choice.
Because of the large size of her tumor invading her vena cava, her liver and into her heart, Jessica required a multidisciplinary team.
Removing multiple organs.
Just three days after Julia was born, Jessica had recovered enough to undergo the complex surgery to remove her tumor. There was no time to lose. Transplant Surgeon Juan C. Caicedo, MD, Urologic Oncologist Shilajit D. Kundu, MD, Vascular Surgeon Mark K. Eskandari, MD, Cardiac Surgeon Duc Thinh Pham, MD, Surgical Oncologist Jeffrey D. Wayne, MD, and a team of nurses gathered for the intense 10-hour surgery. Driven by a relentless passion for providing world-class care, Jessica’s team was focused and ready.
Once we had a plan in place, everyone stepped in and did their job flawlessly.
A true display of teamwork.
As she was given general anesthesia, Jessica closed her eyes and thought of her family and new baby girl. Once she was in a deep sleep, her team put her body on a cardiopulmonary bypass machine to temporarily take over the function of her heart and lungs.
The only way to reach the tumor was to temporarily remove some of the organs and tissue attached to it. First, Dr. Caicedo opened Jessica’s abdomen and removed her liver, detaching it from her inferior vena cava and the tumor that clung onto it. Dr. Kundu then did the same with her kidneys and retroperitoneum, the tissue that lines the abdominal walls and holds most of the organs in place.
Next, Dr. Eskandari removed the inferior vena cava that was consumed by cancer. He replaced it with a prosthetic vein that would now do the blood-transporting work of the inferior vena cava for the rest of Jessica’s life.
Then, Dr. Pham opened up the right atrium of Jessica’s heart and located the remaining piece of the tumor that had grown into it. He carefully moved the tumor down into the abdomen so it could be safely removed from the body.
At this point, it was time for the last phase of Jessica’s operation: putting her organs back into their proper places. Dr. Caicedo and Dr. Kundu transplanted Jessica’s kidneys, liver and retroperitoneum tissue back into her body and closed up her incision.
The procedure was an incredible success and Jessica woke up cancer-free.
Without multidisciplinary involvement, this could not have been done. We were all willing to fight for her.
None of this happens without the outstanding care of our entire nursing staff. From the initial nurses who took care of Jessica on her admission to the hospital, to our nurses in the operating room who are really second to none, to the nurses on the floor and in the ICU who took care of her in the post-op period. It really is a collaborative team effort. While the physicians are the ones that get a lot of the credit, our nursing staff earns and deserves just as much credit.
What makes us better, makes you better.®
Jessica is now back where she’s meant to be.
After being closely monitored for a week in the hospital, Jessica went home to focus on healing and recovery with her family. Now, she feels healthy again and never takes a moment with her husband and two children for granted. She has returned to Northwestern Medicine several times for follow-up scans to ensure her cancer hasn’t returned, and every visit is an incredible reminder of the two hearts that Northwestern Medicine saved.
I’m beyond grateful to have ended up at the right hospital with the right team at the right time. Julia is now a healthy, happy 1-year-old, and I feel wonderful.
Leading the way.
With the top-ranked cancer program in Illinois for nine straight years,* Northwestern Memorial Hospital has outstanding experts in the field. Our teams come together to take on the toughest cases and most complex procedures like Jessica’s every day.
It’s a great honor to be part of a system like Northwestern Medicine where multiple experts can get together and provide this level of care to a patient like Jessica.