Eighteen-year-old Karys Kouba thought her stomach pain was appendicitis. So did her mom, and so did her primary care doctor until the CT scan revealed something else: a massive tumor.
“It was something I didn’t want to think about,” Karys’ mother, Katie, said. “It was hard.”
The team at Children’s eased some concerns by revealing the ganglineuroma tumor was benign; however, its placement in her abdomen presented an entirely new set of challenges. The tumor encircled her aorta, pressed against her spine and was entangled with blood vessels.
“It was in a very dangerous place,” said Patrick Thomas, M.D., Director of Digital Innovation in Pediatric Surgery. “It affected not only the blood vessels to the body and the blood vessels that deliver blood to the bowel, but also impacted the kidneys.”
To remove the tumor, Dr. Thomas and the Pediatric Surgery team collaborated with Children’s Innovation Team to 3D print much of Karys’ midsection to better understand the tumor’s placement. Dr. Thomas then took the imaging a step further by creating a virtual reality landscape to plan the surgical procedure.
“As far as I know, even in the Midwest, no one has done that—at least an application in real life,” said Abdulla Zarroug, M.D., division chief of Pediatric Surgery.
Once created, the futuristic virtual reality environment provided insights about Karys’ tumor at the sub-centimeter level.
“You’re actually able to walk around in the anatomical environment and turn yourself into a little robot or surgeon,” Dr. Thomas said.
In February 2023, Children’s surgical team applied that futuristic planning to an 18-hour procedure to break apart and remove Kary’s tumor. Due to the complex nature of the operation, a multi-disciplinary team was on hand, including General Surgery, Neurosurgery, Urology and Cardiothoracic Surgery.
“I think of it like a symphony,” Dr. Thomas said. “Everyone has mastery in their area, but then you all come together and you are able to perform a beautiful masterpiece.”
For Karys, that masterpiece is a healthy future thanks to the collaboration and innovation at Children’s.
“Dr. Zarroug and Dr. Thomas have been amazing, compassionate people,” Katie said. “I felt very comfortable coming here and putting my daughter’s life in their hands because I knew that they were the best.”