Defying pancreatic cancer during pregnancy
Risky surgery mid-pregnancy saves mother and baby
September 11, 2014
Imagine learning you’re pregnant, then being
diagnosed with pancreatic cancer a few weeks later.
That was the predicament 36-year-old Karalayne Maglinte
found herself in not too long ago.
The Pomona resident’s first inkling of trouble began when
she was 15 weeks pregnant. “My hands and feet were so itchy
I wanted to tear them off,” she recalls.
Four weeks later, the
mother of two developed jaundice and was admitted to a local
Testing was inconclusive, but suggested gallstones.
When her doctors decided they weren’t equipped to care for her,
Maglinte was transferred to UCI Health by ambulance in
the middle of the night.
“Soon after my husband Dennis and I arrived at the hospital,
the OB team and liver/pancreas specialists came in to talk
with us,” says Maglinte.
“The doctors were right on it.
I felt we were finally going to
get some answers.”
Shortly afterward, Dr. John Lee
— an expert in diseases of the
liver, pancreas, bile ducts and gallbladder
— examined Maglinte
using endoscopic ultrasound. His findings led to a biopsy of her
pancreas. He also implanted a stent in Maglinte’s bile duct to
alleviate her jaundice. Although complex, each procedure was
minimally invasive and safe for the baby.
“The biopsy showed that Karalayne had an aggressive form of
pancreatic cancer in its earliest stage,” Lee explains. “Our cancer
team recommended immediate surgery because it would be
safest for both Karalayne and her fetus.”
“I was beyond nervous,” recalls Maglinte. “My focus was more
on the baby than myself. I wanted to fight for her and was
worried she wouldn’t survive the surgery or anesthesia.”
“The goal was to maximize the health of the mother without
jeopardizing the baby,” explains Dr. Julianne Toohey, a high-risk pregnancy specialist. She and a host of other subspecialists
worked together to keep Maglinte and her fetus safe.
Eleven days after the biopsy, pancreas and liver surgeon Dr. Aram Demirjian performed the Whipple procedure on 21-weeks pregnant
Maglinte. Among the most complex surgeries known
today, the six-hour operation included removal of the part of
the pancreas in which the tumor was growing, as well as several
other structures tightly interwoven with the organ.
“Very few surgeons have the skills to operate on a pregnant
patient with pancreatic cancer,” says Lee. “Dr. Demirjian
saved two lives with one surgery and Karalayne went home
seven days later. Today, she’s free of cancer but will require
periodic exams to check for a recurrence of the disease.
It’s nothing short of miraculous.”
And the miracles continued. Emlee, now 5 months old, was
born full term on the second day of spring, joining her two
brothers, 7-year-old Ian and 2-year-old Isaac. Perfect in every
way, she’s a message of abiding hope for the Maglinte family.
“I’m now cancer-free and so grateful for the care I received,”
says Maglinte. “My husband and I try not to look backward.
Instead, we’re focused on the future and better days ahead
with our children.”
To learn more about Karalayne̕s miraculous story,