After living with a 3.5 kg tumour that extended from her neck onto her chest for almost a decade, life has completely changed for 15-year-old Surbhi Ben after six surgeries. A team of 21 doctors from the city have successfully removed the football-sized tumour that had made it difficult for Surbhi to carry out even routine tasks.
The girl, who hails from Amerli district in Gujarat, had spent her entire childhood making visits to hospitals. Faced with social ostracism for her ungainly looks due to the tumour, the girl is now recovering after the surgeries conducted over the course of a year.
The team of doctors at Aster CMI Hospital, who conducted the surgeries, said Surbhi first came to them in December 2019. “She underwent the first procedure in January 2020 and at that time, she had three tumours in her throat that were intertwined with the nerves making the surgery extremely complicated. Despite taking precautions, the uncertainty of the outcome loomed large over us. She had to undergo a total of six surgeries and is now recovering,” said Chetan Ginigeri Lead Consultant – Department of Paediatrics and Neonatology.
Explaining the procedure, Dr Ginigeri said that she had to undergo interventional radiology before the tumour was surgically debulked (reduction of mass) after which she had to undergo reconstruction for the affected area. “She is undergoing voice training and it will take another three to four months for her to fully recover,” he said.
Born in an underprivileged family of farm labourers, Surbhi Ben was a toddler when her parents Parshottam Bhai Variya and Rekha first noticed the lumps around her face. Several appointments with doctors in and around Amerli ended in despair for they all advised that she should be taken to a bigger hospital, which the parents could not afford.
Meanwhile, the tumour kept intruding, making it difficult for Surbhi to carry out routine tasks. Eventually, she had to drop out of school in 2019. Speaking about her difficulty, Surbhi said: “Unlike others, I could not go out and enjoy, people would constantly make fun of me. I even had to stop going to school because of the pain. Even while stepping out, I had to cover myself and unlike other girls, I could not wear normal clothes and dresses due to the tumour.”
Fortunately for her, hope soon arrived in the form of a few well-wishers, the NewsLions, a media outlet, helped facilitate the treatment along with Milaap, a crowd funding platform, and raised over ₹70 lakhs to provide her these life-changing surgeries. Once the funds were arranged, the family then reached out to Aster CMI Hospital in December. If they had delayed the visit even by one or two months, they would have been stuck in the COVID-19 lockdown, doctors said.
G. Girish, Consultant – Surgical Oncology, said the case had extensive involvement of structures in the neck going to the upper torso both within and out of the thoracic cavity. “The case was also immensely complicated as the tumour had grown in the neck region where all the essential structures of life are located and hence we had to take extra precautions during the surgery. As expected she came back with a recurrence in ten months in the neck which required re-excision. Presently she is fine, tolerating oral diet with no breathlessness and talking comprehensively,” he said.
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