• Parents told to plan a funeral before birth
  • Surgeons had to take away tail end of spine during seven-hour operation
  • 'Walking miracle' started school this September

By Sadie Whitelocks

She looks like any other normal five-year-old girl, but Marnie Dunnill was blighted by a life-threatening tumour that doctors feared would kill her in the womb.

During a 20 week pregnancy scan medics at Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge medics detected a mass called a Sacrococcygeal Teratoma, which affects 1 in every 35,000 babies, at the bottom of Marnie's spine.

She looks like any other five-year-old girl, but Marnie Dunnill , pictured with mother Karen, was blighted by a life-threatening tumour that doctors feared would kill her in the womb

She looks like any other five-year-old girl, but Marnie Dunnill , pictured with mother Karen, was blighted by a life-threatening tumour that doctors feared would kill her in the womb

Her parents were told to plan a funeral as even if their daughter was born alive there was only a 50/50 survival rate following surgery.

But miraculously the youngster from Stanwick, Northamptonshire, quickly recovered and today shows little sign of the trauma that marked her early years.

Her mother Karen, 41, who is now separated from father Paul, said: 'The nurse said she could see something which she suspected was a tumour.

'We were sent to Addenbrookes the next day where we were sat down and given the cold, hard facts.

 

'The scans showed our baby was a girl so they suggested that we named her and prepared ourselves for her not being born alive.

'We named her and even decided where she was going to be buried. I didn’t buy anything for her because I didn’t dare believe she’d make it.'

Although Karen was due to have a planned caesarean section she went into natural labour at 34 weeks and had to be rushed to hospital.

After the caesarean, instead of holding her new-born baby, Karen woke to find a Polaroid picture of her daughter alongside consent forms for surgery.

Marnie in hospital around the end of July 2008

Marnie in hospital in 2008: She has been back a few times to correct minor spinal problems but has started school

Surgeons had to take away the tail end of Marnie’s spine and reconstruct her bottom where the 4lb tumour had been - causing her weight to drop from 7lb 12oz at birth to a staggering 3lb 13oz.

The mother-of-two added: 'It was horrendous. You don’t know if you’re ever going to see your daughter alive and all you’ve got is a little photograph.

'At first I was in the maternity ward but it was so hard listening to the other babies crying while Marnie was in theatre that they moved me to a private room.'

Following a seven hour operation, surgeons confirmed it had been a success and the family spent four weeks over Christmas at the hospital before Marnie was allowed to go home.

Although the tumour had been removed doctors warned the family that the she might never have control of her bowels or be able to crawl and walk.

 

But to her parents amazement, Marnie was walking by 15 months and although she has been back to hospital with minor problems in the last few years she has led the life of any normal toddler and started school this September.

As the youngster celebrated her fifth birthday this week, her mother added: 'She knows she was poorly but she likes to look at pictures of herself when she was in the incubator. At the moment she is too young to be aware of the physical differences she has.

'When she gets older we’re going to have to cross the bridge of other children seeing her scars but we tell her they’re her battle scars and she should be proud of them.

'Without meaning to be too graphic, her bottom doesn’t look like mine or yours, but she can’t see it in the mirror and is at an age where she isn’t concerned about her body.

'Marnie really is one in a million. We really have been blessed.'

SACROCOCCYGEAL TERATOMA (STC): FACTS

A (SCT) is a benign tumor that develops at the base of a child's coccyx (tailbone)

It's the most common tumor in newborns - affecting 1 in every 35,000 babies

Most SCTs are found on their own with no other problems, but in 1 in 5 pregnancies there can be
other problems as well

It is a condition that can be treated by surgery after the baby is born, however, it can be a very serious problem and there can be the risk of losing the baby during pregnancy

The operation to remove the tumour might be complicated and it is possible that the operation can
cause blood loss and carries the small risk of the baby not surviving the operation

After treatment, the baby should make a full recovery

There are different types of SCTs but the poorest outlook for survival are with SCTs where:

  • The tumour is very large before 24 weeks.
  • The tumour grows quickly during pregnancy
  • Where the scan shows that the tumour has a large blood supply
  • Where heart failure develops with the tumour.
  • If there is a large increase in fluid around the baby

SOURCE: NHS AND www.childrenshospital.org