Physicians, Humanitarians Rally to Save a Child

It may take a village to raise a child, but in the case of one little 5-year-old Chinese girl, it took a team effort by humanitarians and physicians two continents away to save her life.

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Lu Yao came to the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary suffering from a rhabdomyosarcoma, a fast-growing, highly malignant tumor which accounts for more than half of the soft tissue sarcomas in children.

“This tumor has a high rate of metastasis and would almost certainly have been fatal,” said Dr. Aaron Fay, the oculoplastics surgeon who led the team consisting of members from the Massachusetts General Hospital and Mass. Eye and Ear, which included Dr. Tessa Hadlock, director of the Facial Nerve Center. After a delicate seven-hour surgery, Lu Yao’s beautiful face was uncovered and her eye, which had been consumed by the growth, could be seen.

“Delivering care to a child with this magnitude of disease was tremendously satisfying because it represents such a high impact case -- life and death,” said Dr. Hadlock. Dr. Fay agrees. “It is so rare to be involved in something like this and so overwhelming in a positive sense,” he said. “It is such a wonderful feeling of being needed. It helps to explain why we become doctors. It was an unforgettable experience.”