One-year-old Jak Kaltenbach, of Evans, was just 4 months old when he underwent a rare surgical procedure, but he barely has the scars to show it.
The precocious tot who loves to dance to Gwen Stefani songs was the first infant in Augusta to undergo a laproscopic procedure to remove a cancerous tumor, Medical College of Georgia officials said.
Laproscopic procedures are nothing new, but using a scope to remove a golf ball-size cancerous tumor from an infant was a first for the area, said Dr. Walt Pipkin, the director of Minimally Invasive Surgery at MCG Children's Medical Center.
Normally, surgeons would have to make an incision large enough for the doctor to put his hands into the cavity, Pipkin said. Instead, doctors made three small port holes and removed the tumor through Jak's navel.
"It's really for him a huge, huge advantage," Pipkin said. Instead of a weeklong recovery with considerable pain and scarring, Jak returned home 36 hours after surgery with little pain and very faint scars.
"The mother and I should be the only ones who know where his cuts are," Pipkin said.
After pregnancy complications with their third child, who died at birth six years ago from a heart condition, John and Tanya Kaltenbach, of Evans, said they were told they couldn't have another baby. Jak's birth last August was one surprise. That he's thriving against considerable odds is another.
He has survived despite the cancer and a dangerous bowel condition that developed within days of his birth.
About 25 weeks into the pregnancy, doctors spotted a mass on Jak's left adrenal gland. The Kaltenbachs said they were assured the growth would shrink and was likely nothing to worry about, but physicians monitored the tumor to be sure.
A few months after Jak was born, the tumor started to grow. A nuclear scan before Christmas confirmed it was a cancer called neuroblastoma, which affects about 650 children in the U.S. per year, Pipkin said.
"I was terrified. I had thoughts in my mind this was going to happen again," Mrs. Kaltenbach said of losing another child. "And when you hear cancer, you can't even say it out loud. You can't say it to anybody. It's not happening. You don't want to admit it."
Mr. Kaltenbach said the uncertainty made Christmas difficult.
"It was a lot of crying and a lot praying," he said. "When it started growing, we sort of knew before the test results, it was cancer."
Already having suffered other medical setbacks in his young life, the Kaltenbachs said they're grateful Jak was spared a prolonged recovery from major abdominal surgery.
"I couldn't believe he came out (of surgery) looking so good," Jak's mother said.
Since his surgery, Mrs. Kaltenbach said, Jak is basically a normal child. Pipkin said that although Jak must be monitored for cancer, his prognosis is good.
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