Francesca Fernández de Cordova
Hometown: Ecuador, currently living in Solon, Ohio
Diagnosis: Medulloblastoma, a malignant brain tumor
Treatment: Tumor resection followed by radiation and chemotherapy
When others couldn’t offer it to them, the Fernández family turned to Cleveland Clinic for hope.
4-year-old Francesca Fernández de Cordova was just an average child growing up in Ecuador until the fall of 2011 turned her life upside down. She began experiencing severe headaches and worsening coordination, so her parents, Sandra and Pedro, took her to a local Ecuadorian physician. He was able to diagnose the cause of her symptoms as a medulloblastoma, a type of malignant brain tumor found in children. While this was a devastating diagnosis to receive for their daughter, Francesca’s parents were determined to do everything in their power to save their youngest daughter. Their local neurosurgeon initially felt that the tumor was all but inoperable due to the size and critical area, in which it was located in Francesca’s brain. But he was able to remove a small portion of the tumor from Francesca’s brain. This meant the only option available for treating the remaining tumor were radiation followed by chemotherapy. Her parents knew that while this may give them some more time with their daughter, it was not the outcome they were hoping for.
So, Sandra and Pedro began their search for other options for Francesca. Her neurosurgeon in Ecuador recommended that the family visit Cleveland Clinic Florida neurosurgeon, Jose Valerio, MD, with whom he had met through a Latin American medical association. Soon, the family packed their bags, got on a plane and headed to Weston, Florida for an appointment with Dr. Valerio. Following additional brain scans, Dr. Valerio suggested the Fernández family seek treatment for the remaining 4cm tumor with one of his colleagues at Cleveland Clinic’s main campus. Because of Francesca’s age, the nature of the remaining tumor and where it was located, he recommended Violette Recinos, MD, a pediatric neurosurgeon at the Rose Ella Burkhardt Brain Tumor and Neuro-Oncology Center, who specializes in these types of pediatric brain tumor cases.
Within a few days of seeing Dr. Valerio in Florida, Francesca and both of her parents were soon meeting with Dr. Recinos in Cleveland. Dr. Recinos subsequently removed the remaining tumor from Francesca’s brain. Dr. Recinos comments, “She had a good tumor resection, we were able to get it all.” Dr. Recinos added, “Although, Francesca’s tumor is not the most common type, our team has treated a number of these cases and knew exactly how to approach her treatment when she arrived.”
Once the surgery was completed, Tanya Tekautz, MD, took the lead on Francesca’s ongoing care. She recommended a course of radiation followed by chemotherapy to ensure the tumor cells were completely treated.
Francesca’s radiation therapy was aggressive but, just like most children, she tolerated this type of intensive treatment very well. Erin Murphy, MD, was the radiation oncologist who managed this six-week portion of her treatment. “We were able to perform a very complex treatment plan, with the specific goal of reducing the short and long term side effects for Francesca,” Dr. Murphy noted.
The Fernández family stayed at the Ronald McDonald House for a portion of this treatment before moving their two older children, Eric and Michelle, from Ecuador to the Solon area for the remaining treatment time.
Francesca is about half way through her chemotherapy treatment now and her prognosis is good. Dr. Tekautz has resumed the oversight of her care and helps her to manage any side effects she might experience, such as sleepiness or poor appetite. Francesca should complete her final chemotherapy cycles later this year. Dr. Tekautz comments, “While her tumor is aggressive, she has responded remarkably well during the treatment process; with ongoing monitoring and follow-up we are optimistic for her future.”
Francesca’s parents have a very strong faith and are certain that their journey from Ecuador to Florida and now in the Cleveland area has been a blessing. This treatment path they are on with Francesca was because God has brought them to the right hospital and clinical team to best help their daughter.
Today, Francesca is doing phenomenally well. She recently celebrated her fifth birthday and is looking forward to learning English and visiting the Cleveland Aquarium and Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. Francesca told her mom recently that she "feels like a new person” and that “Cleveland Clinic is my hospital, my home. This is where they take care of me.”
It's become a classic scenario: You have a headache and after Googling it, you find out a headache can be a sign of a brain tumor.
If you rush to the emergency room suspicious that you have a tumor or something else deadly serious, chances are you're being paranoid. But sometimes you're not being paranoid -- you're being right.