Toddler’s fall uncovers rare brain tumor

By: By Beth Lawrence -
Sarah Emily Dial and her parents Ricky and Jessica spent the baby’s second Halloween in at Levine Children’s Hospital following her surgery to remove a brain tumor.

LAURINBURG – When Sarah Emily Dial fell in mid-October, her parents Jessica and Ricky initially thought it was a typical mishap like any other toddler experiences until they couldn’t quiet her.

The fall turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the 17-month-old. Because of it, Sarah Emily’s family found out much sooner than they might otherwise have that the baby had a Juvenile Pilocytic Astrocytoma, a rare brain tumor which affects children.

“She tripped and fell over her daddy’s boot, and she just kept crying uncontrollably. She didn’t want the ice pack on her head; she kept pushing it away,” said Georgia Thompson Jessica’s mother. “We took her to Scotland Memorial, and they did a CT scan and told us there was a mass on the right side of her brain, and that an ambulance was coming from a Charlotte hospital to pick her up.”

The Charlotte hospital was Levine’s Children’s Hospital. On Oct. 17 the baby was screened with an MRI, and her parents were told that she had a mass the size of a tennis ball. Sarah Emily was facing surgery and a long recovery process.

“It was inside the right side of her brain, and it had nine cysts growing around it. It was putting pressure on her optic nerve, and it had fluid from her spine building up on her brain,” Thompson said.

The family returned home for an anxious wait until Sarah Emily’s surgery on Oct. 24 which was also her parent’s two year wedding anniversary. The little girl was in surgery for 9 and a half hours.

The usually benign tumors grow slowly, and do not typically spread to surrounding tissues. This was fortunately the case with Sarah Emily.

Her family is grateful for the diagnosis and surgery but wary because the baby has a long trek to recovery.

Sarah Emily is currently paralyzed along the left side of her body, and she cannot open her right eye.

The little girl who had only begun to walk and talk as toddlers do will now have to learn those activities again. When she come home, Sarah Emily will need 30 to 45 days of physical, occupational and speech therapy as long as she doesn’t experience any setbacks.

“She’s got a long struggle ahead of her,” Thompson said on the verge of tears.

One setback the family faced was when Sarah Emily began having seizures post-surgery.

“They had to send her back to ICU, and she stayed there four days,” Thompson said. “They’ve got to keep a check on her sodium because her sodium level keeps dropping, and when it drops to 423 or below, she’ll start seizing again.”

She has also had to have a shunt put in to relieve pressure on her brain due to fluid buildup.

More setbacks will delay the child’s recovery.

There is also a distinct possibility that the tumor could return in the future forcing her to go through surgery again, according to Thompson.

The baby’s parent’s face a struggle too.

Like any parents, they have wanted to remain at their child’s side through the ordeal. Ricky and Jessica Dial have taken time off from their jobs at Edward’s Wood Products and at Cape Fear Valley Foot and Ankle.

Jessica will need even more time off to be at home with Sarah Emily while she goes through therapy.

“When she gets [home] Sandhills Rehabilitation is going to come in three days a week and speech therapy will come two days a week,” Thompson said. “Five days a week she’ll have therapists coming to work with her at home, and they said that they’re going to need her mom there.”

Like anyone else facing mounting medical bills and lost time from work the young family is feeling overwhelmed.

A paypal account has been created to raise money to help the family offset medical expenses and time out of work. To donate to the little family visit and enter to make a donation.

“Any little bit and all the prayers we can get will help,” Thompson said. “She is on prayer lists in Florida, Texas and Tennessee. People are helping us pray for our baby because she’s got such a hard road.”

For information call, Thompson at 910-506-9267.

Jessica Dial’s coworkers at Cape Fear Valley Foot and Ankle have also stepped up to help the family. They took up a collection to help the family and Helping Hands Ministry in Maxton − the church of one of Dial’s coworkers − will donate a Thanksgiving dinner to the family.

Scientists do not yet know what causes juvenile pilocytic astrocytomas, according to

The tumors develop from star-shaped cells called astrocytes which are similar to the glial tissues that coat and protect the brain and spinal cord.

Astrocytomas are given four grades depending upon how quickly the cells reproduce and the probability that they will penetrate surrounding brain matter.

The tumors often occur in the lower area of brain near the cerebellum − the area of the brain responsible for movement and balance, the hypothalamic region − the part of the brain that connects the nervous system to the endocrine system, the brainstem, or the along the optic nerve.

Most juvenile pilocytic astrocytomas can be resolved through surgery. In cases where the entire tumor cannot be removed surgically, chemotherapy or radiation treatment is required.

Sarah Emily Dial and her parents Ricky and Jessica spent the baby’s second Halloween in at Levine Children’s Hospital following her surgery to remove a brain tumor. Emily Dial and her parents Ricky and Jessica spent the baby’s second Halloween in at Levine Children’s Hospital following her surgery to remove a brain tumor.

By Beth Lawrence

Reach Beth Lawrence 910-506-3169

Reach Beth Lawrence 910-506-3169