Jenna comes up fighting after tough start in life

Date: Monday 20th March 2017
Jenna with her parents, Lisa and Antony
Jenna with her parents, Lisa and Antony

PENRITH parents have spoken of their toddler’s fighting spirit and resilience, after she was born with a tumour on her neck and had to undergo chemotherapy at the tender age of four months.

Jenna Smith can seem just like any other child of almost three, but her parents, Lisa Hodgson-Smith and Antony Smith, know all too well that her start in life was far from straightforward.

When Lisa was 32 weeks pregnant, a scan revealed that something was wrong with unborn baby Jenna. Further scans showed a 7cm tumour on the baby’s neck. Although surgeons had planned to induce Lisa early at 37 weeks, Jenna had other ideas and at 32 weeks, in the middle of the night, Lisa went into labour.

She was placed on a drip at the Cumberland Infirmary, Carlisle, and taken to Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary, where she was wheeled into a room with about 30 medical staff and anaesthetised for a caesarean section.

Surgeons carried out the operation and while Jenna was still partially in her mother’s womb, a tracheotomy was performed on the baby’s neck — an incision made in her windpipe enabling her to breathe.

Lisa can clearly remember the first time she saw her baby girl. “It was quite a shock (the tumour size), but I could look past that and see her pretty face.”

Antony and Lisa were unable to do much for their baby for the first two weeks of her life and were only able to hold her once, which Lisa said was hard.

During this time though, Jenna was already showing her resilience and fighting spirit. Despite being on oxygen, she kept breathing for herself, and opening her eyes despite being sedated.

After two weeks, a biopsy was carried out on the tumour and it was found to be benign. Surgeons decided to carry out an operation, which was expected to take most of the day.

“It was devastating to be honest, we just cried constantly,” Lisa said of the moment Jenna was taken into theatre. However, only an hour and a half later, they received the call to say that the operation had been a success.

It was after the operation that Lisa and Antony could start helping with Jenna’s care. They also had to learn how to clean and change the tube of the tracheotomy, meaning that when they brought Jenna home, one of them had to be with her at all times.

Lisa had to give up her job, which she had held for 16 years.

Jenna’s time in hospital was a blur for Lisa, who said that although she kept a diary while she was there, she can barely remember what happened when reading it back. After five weeks, Lisa and Antony took Jenna home for the first time — an experience they described as “amazing but scary”.

Jenna continued to develop well at home and underwent regular hospital check-ups. However, four months later, Lisa and Antony received the devastating news that a pathologist had found cancer cells in the tumour. An unusual type of cancer, rhabdomyosarcoma is a malignant tumour that arises from a normal cell.

The consultant was initially hesitant about treating Jenna with chemotherapy because of her age, but after speaking with other doctors, it was concluded this was the best option. Chemotherapy began when Jenna was four months old and made her quite ill., but despite everything, Jenna continued to smile throughout her ordeal.

She was in hospital for seven months receiving chemotherapy treatment. And doctors said she has been in remission since the removal of the tumour at two weeks old.

Lisa said: “(Bringing her home for a second time) was like starting afresh again and just enjoying life.” Jenna was also able to play with other children for the first time. And at the start of this year, Jenna had her tracheotomy removed.

Lisa said straight away Jenna was more confident and is now like a “different girl”. She has asked to go out with other family members, something she has not been able to do before. Before the removal, Jenna yet again showed her fight and was able to speak despite having her tracheotomy.

It was originally anticipated that the hole in Jenna’s neck left behind from the tracheotomy would require an operation to close up. However, Lisa said it seems to be healing well.

While still having check-ups at hospital and being visited by outreach workers from Jigsaw, Cumbria’s Children’s Hospice at Carlisle, and also community health nurses, which Lisa say have been “amazing”, Jenna still continues to smile. Lisa says she’s looking forward to Jenna experiencing her next big step — nursery.