Mighty Blog

Born with a tumor followed by a 76-day NICU stay, baby Jagger is now home and healthy

Mycaela Scalzo and Donovan Martin, parents of one child with another on the way, were going to their 20-week ultrasound appointment with the typical feelings of anxiousness and excitement. During this appointment, the baby’s size, organs and overall health are checked, but Mycaela and Donovan’s excitement soon turned to fear.

During the check-up, an unknown mass was found on their baby’s face. The provider suspected it was oral teratoma – a noncancerous but potentially dangerous tumor that could block the baby’s airway, creating feeding issues and more.

Being referred to the Midwest Fetal Care Center

Mycaela’s local care team in a small town, Hayward, Wisconsin, referred her to a larger clinic in Duluth, Minnesota, where their baby’s tumor diagnosis was confirmed and specified to be on the roof of his mouth.

To receive the highly specialized care this extremely rare diagnosis requires, Mycaela and baby Martin were referred to the Midwest Fetal Care Center (MWFCC) – a  collaboration between Allina Health and Children’s Minnesota that brings together a multi-disciplinary team of highly trained maternal-fetal medicine experts, and pediatric and neonatal specialists.

Baby Jagger ultrasound

Receiving expert care at MWFCC

Beginning at 24 weeks gestation, Mycaela drove two and a half hours to the Twin Cities for weekly scans that monitored the growth of her baby’s tumor. At 26 weeks, Mycaela’s fluid levels became unstable and the family relocated to be closer to the expert care they needed.

Mycaela’s care team and her primary providers, Dr. Saul Snowise, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist, and Dr. Joseph Lillegard, a pediatric general surgeon, hoped Mycaela could carry her baby to 37 weeks. But, they soon realized the tumor was growing and could cause problems. A quick decision was made to deliver baby Martin early at 32 weeks.

“I was terrified of the early-delivery risks the doctors educated me on,” said Mycaela. “To prepare, I wrote letters to my partner Donovan, my 19-month-old daughter Eden and my unborn son, just in case I didn’t make it through. I was prepared for the worst, but hoping for the best.”

Welcoming their baby

Jagger Martin was born via an EXIT procedure on March 10, 2021, at The Mother Baby Center at Abbott Northwestern and Children’s Minnesota. An EXIT procedure is when the baby’s head and arms are delivered while the rest of the baby remains attached to the mom’s placenta. The placenta provides oxygen and nutrients to the baby, while Dr. Snowise and Dr. Lillegard removed the externally visible part of the tumor.

Jagger Martin weighed in at just 4 pounds, 8 ounces. His tumor weighed just over one pound, or about the size of a grapefruit, and one of the largest MWFCC has seen. While challenges still remained, thankfully both Mycaela and Jagger were stable.

Baby Jagger experiences complications

After his initial surgery and after being fully delivered, the doctors hoped Jagger would begin healing, however, he continued to show signs of distress.

Jagger’s brain bleed

The doctors ordered an MRI to see what remained of his tumor when another unexpected discovery was made; Baby Jagger was experiencing a severe brain bleed. Unfortunately, the bleed turned into hydrocephalus, or a build-up of fluids in the brain, so he needed another surgery.

“With every surprise diagnosis, we grew more emotional,” Mycaela described. “It felt like one thing after another, like we weren’t quite out of the woods yet. The doctors did prepare us for these possibilities, but I don’t think you can ever be truly prepared for bad news about your baby.”

Other complications

Unfortunately, Jagger continued to have more issues. From a stomach infection to trouble breathing to needing two blood transfusions, he faced many health struggles early in his young life.

Finding relief

On April 20, 2021, Jagger was stabilized and ready to undergo a second surgery to remove the tumor that remained on the roof of his mouth. The surgery was a success and marks the beginning of Jagger’s recovery to becoming a happy and healthy baby!

After surgery, a feeding tube was placed and Jagger was discharged 10 days later to begin recovering in the comfort of his loving home. In total, his NICU stay lasted 76 days.

“What helped me stay sane was the support of the NICU nurses and our fetal care clinical social worker Jill Palmer,” said Mycaela. “Their support and guidance meant the world to our family. They explained the medical jargon, were a listening ear when we needed it and a calming constant throughout our journey.”

Photo by: Rivers Edge Collective

Baby Jagger today

Thankfully, Jagger has made a remarkable recovery! He is enjoying life as a smiley and sweet 11 month old. His big sister Eden is helping show him the ropes of life. For follow-up care, Jagger sees an ear, nose & throat (ENT) physician, a neurosurgeon, and a gastrointestinal/eating specialist to make sure the complications he faced don’t continue and create roadblocks for his development.

“We take it day by day and make sure to celebrate what might seem like a small win. We cherish something as simple as his smile,” said Mycaela.

Mycaela believes these wins are thanks to The Kid Experts™ at Children’s Minnesota.

Photo by: Rivers Edge Collective
Photo by: Rivers Edge Collective

Watch Jagger’s story