When an active kid started falling down, it was clear something was wrong

Doctors at Norton Children’s Neuroscience Institute discovered a large benign tumor in Nyssa Gaddy’s neck and successfully removed it.

Nyssa Gaddy, now a sixth-grader at Calloway County Middle School in Murray, Kentucky, was losing her balance. She’d never before had a hint of clumsiness; as an active kid, she always enjoyed the water whether at nearby Kentucky Lake or a pool.

But last August she started falling. In the house, in the yard, even on smooth concrete, she’d fall down. Twice she sprained her ankle.

“We thought it would be best for Nyssa to see our local pediatrician for a checkup,” her dad, Wayne, said.

Nyssa quickly was referred to the Paducah, Kentucky, location of Norton Children’s Neuroscience Institute, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine.

Pediatric nurse practitioner and neurology specialist Kristen Riley, APRN, PNP-PC, examined Nyssa and found her left hand and arm were extremely weak and that she had issues with coordination. Kristen suggested a central nervous system tumor could be the cause and immediately called her inpatient neurology colleagues in Louisville  at Norton Children’s Neuroscience Instituteand the team at Norton Children’s Cancer Institute, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine.

Nyssa and Wayne got in the car for the 3½ hour drive to Norton Children’s Hospital. Nyssa was admitted that evening, and an MRI was scheduled for the next morning. Wayne felt overwhelmed, yet relieved that they would have possible answers within the next 12 hours.

A large tumor pushing against the spinal cord in her neck

The results from the MRI provided an answer. Doctors at Norton Children’s Neuroscience Institute discovered a tumor in Nyssa’s neck. It covered about two-thirds of her spinal cord and was compressing the spine. Not only was it affecting her coordination and causing limb weakness, if left untreated, the tumor eventually would cause paralysis from the neck down.

“Even so-called benign tumors of the spine can cause compression of the cord and lead to life-changing loss of movement and sensation,” said Thomas M. Moriarty, M.D., Ph.D., chief of pediatric neurosurgery at Norton Children’s Neuroscience Institute.

Dr. Moriarty explained the tumor to Wayne and how he’d remove it. Surgery was scheduled immediately.

“After talking with Dr. Moriarty, I then shared the initial results with Nyssa,” Wayne said. “She was strong and took her diagnosis with stride and understanding. I was so proud of her resilience.”

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Two weeks of recovery and a new friend

The four-hour surgery performed by Dr. Moriarty to remove the noncancerous tumor was a success.

After two weeks for recovery and physical therapy to rebuild her strength, Nyssa was released to go home. Though she was happy to leave, she looked back on her stay fondly. She enjoyed playing the Xbox and Nintendo Switch with her dad. The hospital’s playroom also offered an outlet for Nyssa to step away to just be a kid as she was healing.

“My team of doctors and nurses were so nice,” Nyssa said. “My favorite nurse was Emily, who would spend extra time talking to me. She became my friend. Everyone needs a nurse like Emily. She was always there to help and make sure I was smiling even when I didn’t feel the best.”

“Nyssa lights up an entire room with her big smile and bubbly personality, both of which are just absolutely contagious,” said Emily McDaniel, R.N., BSN. “The strength she showed not only physically, but also mentally, was extremely inspiring especially at her young age. I always try to make a connection with the kids who I take care of because being in the hospital can be extremely scary and intimidating. Making that connection is how you gain trust with your patients, and when you’re dealing with a pediatric population, trust is everything.”

Moving forward

Nyssa sees the team at Norton Children’s Neuroscience Institute at Norton Children’s Outpatient Center – Paducah for routine appointments and will have an annual MRI to rule out any new tumors.

“I am thankful to swim once again and return to recess at school,” Nyssa said. “If I need care again, I know I have a family at Norton Children’s that will take good care of me. Plus I have Emily.”

 


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