Mighty Blog

Annabelle’s journey through a brain tumor diagnosis and surgery in first-of-its-kind neurosurgery suite

Annabelle is a 10-year-old girl with big dreams and an even bigger list of hobbies – she loves science, art and crafts, traveling, chess and rollercoasters just to name a few. But her busy life took an unexpected and shocking turn one day when she volunteered for a brain development study. During the 2022 study, an MRI revealed Annabelle had a grape-size brain tumor, it would eventually be diagnosed as a low-grade glioma (LGG). A LGG is one of the most common types of brain tumors in kids. Annabelle, who previously had shown no symptoms, learned her tumor was in the part of her brain responsible for important motor skills such as walking and moving her arms.

Developing a care plan

Searching for expert answers, Annabelle and her family met with pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Kyle Halvorson and his team at the Children’s Minnesota neurosurgery program. Over the course of about a year, the family and clinical team developed and followed a custom care plan for Annabelle’s slow-growing brain tumor.

“First, as Annabelle was asymptomatic, we decided to go the path of ‘wait and see,’” Annabelle’s mom, Jozy, explained. “Annabelle did periodic MRIs that were first stable and then her MRI in September of 2023 indicated that the tumor grew. As a parent this is the moment you fear – I knew something was wrong as soon as Dr. Halvorson walked into the room.”

Changing plans

Because of the change, Dr. Halvorson and Dr. Maggie Skrypek, a neuro-oncology expert with the Cancer and Blood Disorders program at Children’s Minnesota, now recommended surgery to remove Annabelle’s brain tumor. Adding to the complexity, the tumor was in the area of the brain that made preserving Annabelle’s ability to move her arms, legs and face extremely important, but exceptionally challenging. Thankfully, Annabelle’s procedure did not have any long-lasting complications.

Jozy explains how their family wanted some time to think the brain surgery through. “They took the time to answer our questions and were supportive through our thinking process when we were evaluating if and where to do the surgery.”

iMRI suite MPLS
The Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation iMRI Surgical Suite (click on image to enlarge)

The fact that her brain tumor started growing scared Annabelle. “First, I had a little hope that I wouldn’t have to do surgery,” Annabelle said. “But then when I found out the tumor was growing and we had to do something about it, I had no hope left. I was worried and scared.”

Jozy shared how Dr. Halvorson and Dr. Skrypek worked to restore Annabelle’s hope and calm her family’s concerns, “We are grateful that Dr. Halvorson is personal and listens. I trust his advice as a doctor, as he seems to treat his patients the same as he would his own children. The whole team was great!”

Annabelle’s operation took place in the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation iMRI Surgical Suite – the first neurosurgery suite of its kind in North America. The cutting-edge facility in our Minneapolis hospital shares the same name as the philanthropic foundation that generously committed a $5.5 million lead gift to the iMRI suite.

Surgery day

On Nov. 15, 2023, Dr. Halvorson and his team performed a craniotomy procedure to remove Annabelle’s brain tumor.

During the 11-hour operation, the neurosurgeon removed a portion of Annabelle’s skull to create a temporary opening to safely remove the tumor. The new iMRI suite’s design put state-of-the-art tools at the neurosurgeon’s fingertips during the delicate procedure.

The three-room neurosurgery facility allows experts to seamlessly move a 16,200-pound MRI scanner directly into one of its operating rooms via a ceiling-mounted rail system. The high-power scanner then takes crystal-clear images mid-procedure to confirm if an entire tumor is removed – all without leaving the sterile environment. This crucial ability improves patient outcomes and helps eliminate the need for future brain surgeries.

Annabelle had two scans while in surgery and the procedure was a success.

“This to me reduced the risk and provided Dr. Halverson the information he needed to have the best possible outcome,” Jozy said. “Having iMRI was one of the ‘must haves’ for me when selecting the hospital for my child’s surgery.”

Since the iMRI suite opened in March 2023 at Children’s Minnesota’s Minneapolis hospital, The Kid Experts® on the Children’s Minnesota neurosurgery team have performed at least 50 procedures within its first year of operation – Annabelle was the 36th patient.

Recovery and continued care

Annabelle’s post-surgery care included physical therapy (PT) and occupational therapy (OT), as well as speech therapy at Children’s Minnesota. The family shared how other services such as music therapy, the Ronald McDonald House at our Minneapolis hospital and child life department all made a positive impact for Annabelle’s recovery and supporting the whole family during the hospital stay.

Now home, Annabelle is getting back to being her old self as she recovers.

“I feel great, mostly like I was before,” Annabelle said. “There are still some things I cannot do though like skiing or gymnastics just yet.”

For now, Annabelle will continue to have follow-up MRI scans every three months to make sure the tumor does not grow back as her care journey continues.

Annabelle shares her story with KARE 11