McKenna Cain was a typical, busy 1-year-old girl. She spent her days trying to master new skills, whether that meant walking the entire length of the family room, speaking her first words or successfully tackling 1 of her 4 older brothers.
Her personality was beginning to shine and she was reaching new milestones — socially, physically and cognitively — each month. She was a happy and playful 1-year-old who was determined to keep up with her brothers.
“She loves jumping in the wrestling mix,” said her mom, Krystina Cain of Newcomerstown, Ohio. “She is constantly copying her brothers’ every move, and she wants to be a part of everything they’re doing, whether she’s able to or not.”
Earlier this year on March 1, McKenna was feeling under the weather. So on a typical Thursday afternoon, with errands to run and kids to drop off at school, Krystina scheduled a sick visit with her daughter’s pediatrician to check out a bad cough and runny nose.
But little did Krystina know, McKenna’s happy-go-lucky days were about to take a turn for the worse — and not just because of a pesky ear infection.
During the sick visit, Krystina just happened to mention that she noticed recently when McKenna woke up in the morning, she’d rest her forehead in her hands for several minutes. Sometimes, she’d even say, “Ow.”
Krystina didn’t think much of it because McKenna copied her brothers quite often, and there weren’t any other symptoms. It wasn’t affecting McKenna’s daily life, at least nothing that Krystina noticed.
Though it seemed like a simple explanation, McKenna’s pediatrician, Dr. Andrew Newburn of Akron Children’s Hospital Pediatrics in New Philadelphia, was quick to dig a little deeper, even if that wasn’t the purpose of her visit.
“After inquiring further, I found some red flags,” said Dr. Newburn. “It seemed like the headaches were increasing in nature, and mom noted she seemed to always hold the same spot on her head. It’s an atypical complaint for an 18-month-old. So, I ordered a CT scan for the very next day.”
Much to the family’s dismay, the test results revealed a mass on the left side of McKenna’s brain. Dr. Newburn immediately referred McKenna to Akron Children’s Neurosurgery specialists for an MRI to make a clear diagnosis.
“Dr. Newburn is a really good listener, and I appreciate that he ordered the test just in case,” said Krystina. “He could have just as easily said, ‘She’s 2. Don’t worry about it,’ because there wasn’t a huge sign something was wrong. It was a very good catch.”
On March 26, McKenna was diagnosed with an arachnoid cyst on the left side of her brain. It was causing a buildup of cerebrospinal fluid and putting undue pressure on her brain, hence, the headaches.
“I was concerned, of course, because anything that involves the brain is a little stressful,” said Krystina. “However, I was glad to be at Akron Children’s and trusted their expertise. I was comforted in the fact that when we got up there, the doctors were ready to look at all options.”
Since the cyst was unlikely to shrink, the family opted to have brain surgery not quite before McKenna’s second birthday. On May 10, Dr. Chen and her surgical team made several holes in the cyst to drain it and allow fluid to flow freely from the cyst into the normal cavities in her brain with the goal of keeping pressures normal.
The surgery was a success, and after 3 nights in the hospital, McKenna was able to go home.
“She’s a tough cookie,” said Krystina. “Being so young, I’m thankful it’s not something she’ll remember.”
Today, McKenna is doing well and no longer suffers from headaches. She’s back to her rough-and-tumble self, running around with her brothers and jumping in the wrestling mix. She also loves ballet and playing babies. She gives them baths all around the house, whether that’s in the kitchen sink or the dog’s water dish.
McKenna had a follow-up MRI on Aug. 11, and everything is normal. Dr. Chen and her team will continue to monitor the cyst, but McKenna’s chances for another surgical procedure are low.
“The most important thing I’ve learned from all this is sometimes what seems to be the littlest thing, may be much bigger than you think,” said Krystina. “So, be sure to mention anything and everything you notice about your child at sick or well visits, for that matter. It could save your child’s life.”