Baby Briggs McDonald born with giant benign tumor on his neck

Tumor the size of baby's head blocked his airway

DENVER - A Littleton couple was in for a shock when they found out their unborn baby had a rare tumor the size of his head growing on his neck.

For years, Nicole and Aaron McDonald had hoped to have a baby, so when they finally got pregnant last year, they were more than ready.

"We were extremely excited about it. Everyone in our family said, it's about time," said Nicole.

Everything seemed perfect during the first 36 weeks of pregnancy, but a late ultrasound revealed a serious problem.

"We knew something was really wrong. You could just feel it in the room," said Aaron McDonald.

In just a few weeks, a tumor the size of the baby's head had grown on his neck, possibly blocking his airway.

"So, that's the biggest concern is that the baby will be born and won't be able to breathe and there's nothing anybody can do," said Dr. Steven Rothenberg, chief of pediatric surgery for the HealthOne Center for Maternal Fetal Health at the Rocky Mountain Hospital For Children.

Rothenberg said the tumors are fairly rare, and no one knows what causes them, but his Center has become a regional referral center and now sees about one case a year.

He said the Center is uniquely equipped to handle the surgery because it has adjacent operating rooms -- one for the C-section, and one to immediately operate on the baby.

Before long, Nicole McDonald was in surgery.

"The room was full," said Dr. Richard Porreco, who performed the C-section. "In fact we had to 'shush' them all so we could talk to one another. So, immediately after the cord was clamped, the baby was wafted a few feet away into the other room."

Neonatologists prepared for anything immediately intubated the baby so he could breathe around the tumor stretching his neck and distorting his windpipe.

The next day Dr. Rotherberg successfully removed the tumor, which was a benign teratoma.

Four-and-a-half months later, Briggs is a happy, healthy baby.

"See? You can't even see the scar," said his proud mother.

For a couple of months, she said, he didn't have a voice while recovering from the surgery.

"We weren't used to a crying baby, because he didn't really cry, he just hissed," said Nicole McDonald with a laugh. "I kind of miss those days."

Truthfully, she said, she is glad to hear him cry as loudly as any baby and grateful every moment that he is alive.

"We're just truly blessed. We really are. That we have him and he's healthy," she said.