Three months pregnant in October, Casey Hudson was terrified to discover she had a rapidly-growing tumor attached to her right tibia. One day it seemed everything was fine, the next she was searching for a miracle to save both her life and the life of her unborn baby.
The 28-year-old from Sunset, about 60 miles northwest of Fort Worth, was warned by doctors that, although the giant cell tumor wasn’t cancerous, it had a reputation of sometimes turning into cancer. Every day the tumor was allowed to stay in her body, the likelihood increased that it would become malignant -- and then it could spread to her lungs. They also explained the swelling Hudson was experiencing in her leg was caused by a big blood clot created by the tumor. It could break free at any time, potentially causing a fatal pulmonary embolism.
“The doctor looked at me and told me ‘you’re going to have to decide which life is more important,’” Hudson recalled. He wanted to remove the lemon-sized tumor immediately. But doing so would require a lengthy operation and her baby likely wouldn’t be able to survive exposure to several hours of anesthesia.
Unable to accept that outcome, Hudson began to talk to other physicians, looking for a better solution. She was willing to do whatever it took to save her unborn baby. But she didn’t want him to grow up without a mother, either. Turned away by doctor after doctor who said the best alternative they could offer to lengthy surgery that would threaten the baby was a quicker procedure to amputate Hudson’s leg, she learned about Dr. Mayme Richie-Gillespie at JPS Health Network. An orthopedic surgeon who specializes in musculoskeletal tumors, Richie-Gillespie has operated a monthly ortho-oncological tumor clinic at JPS Health Network for more than 20 years.
Richie-Gillespie came highly recommended by Hudson’s fiancé, Dustin Brewer, 28. He was one of the surgeon’s first patients in the early days of her career.
When he was a toddler in 1992, Brewer had a degenerative cyst on his right femur that caused the bone to erode. Richie-Gillespie operated on his leg three times throughout the years – twice to do repair work due to Brewer’s passion for playing football and riding bulls. He walks today as if he has never had a problem with his leg.
Hudson was admitted at JPS on December 7. She met with Richie-Gillespie A multidisciplinary team that included a JPS surgeon and leaders from Women and Infant Services, the High-Risk Antepartum Unit, Labor and Delivery, the NICU and other health network experts and formulated a plan to allow the baby to develop for as long as possible before Hudson could have surgery needed to remove a life-threatening tumor on her leg. She was bedridden since her arrival, spending Christmas and then her birthday in January watching both her tumor and her baby bump grow by the day. The tumor eventually ate away at her tibia to the point that it snapped in half. Still she and her medical team waited for the perfect moment.
Finally, on February 19, in her 34th week of pregnancy, it was decided it was time to make the move Hudson had been waiting for. Wyatt Lane Brewer was delivered by Caesarian section, weighing in at 4 pounds, 13 ounces. He was healthy and a good size for a premature baby. Three days later, Hudson underwent more than seven hours of surgery to remove her life-threatening tumor and repair the damage it did with a total knee replacement.
“She has truly been a blessing,” Brewer said of Richie-Gillespie. “She’s the best doctor in the world, as far as I am concerned. She did everything we could have asked, my son is healthy and she fixed my wife just like she fixed me all those years ago.”
Because she has been on blood thinners due to her clots, Hudson’s C-section wound was slow to heal and limited her movement. Determined to visit her baby in the NICU as soon as possible after he was born, she had to scoot – staying flat on her back – from her hospital bed to a gurney that was wheeled to Wyatt’s side. After that, things started to move quickly. Just a week after her knee replacement, she walked from her bed to the NICU under her own power.
“You can tell that my right leg is a little bit heavier than my left when I try to lift it,” Hudson noted. “But, I can’t complain about that. Once I am healed, I ought to be able to walk just like I did before. It’s really amazing.”
The rebuilt leg won’t keep Hudson from her passion for riding horses, either, although Richie-Gillespie asked her to make one concession. Instead of riding bareback, she urged Hudson to use a saddle to decrease the chances of her coming off her horse involuntarily.
"I'm so proud of all of the people who took care of her," said Jeri Ames, Nurse Manager of Women and Infant Services on 2 South, said. "We treat people who are pregnant and have chronic diseases. But her situation was different. When she arrived, we thought she had cancer. Then her leg broke. She couldn't hardly move. She had so many things to contend with, but she was determined. She is a very smart young woman and she asked a lot of questions. It wasn't an easy case. But it's been an extremely rewarding one."
Hudson said the nurses on her floor told her it will feel strange, after spending several months seeing her every day, not to have her around after she's discharged.
Richie-Gillespie said she was impressed by Hudson’s courage and dedication throughout the legthy ordeal and she’s just happy that she was able to come through for her patient.
“It’s been tough for her because all this time she didn’t know for sure how things were going to turn out,” Richie-Gillespie said. “But we worked together and were able to get through this. It’s difficult to ask for a better outcome for a patient.”