By Alex Ginsberg
French-American relations were warm and vibrant Friday — at least in Room 317 at Schneider Children’s Hospital in New Hyde Park.
Doctors there announced the successful removal of a tumor from the brain stem of Manon Beauvais, a 6-year-old girl from Normandy who traveled to New York after specialists in France said her tumor was inoperable.
“It’s the most beautiful gift I could receive for Mother’s Day,” the child’s mother, Marie, said. “It’s like a renaissance for Manon.”
Pediatric neurosurgeon Steven Schneider cut out 80 percent of the tumor, which was threatening to crush the child’s brain stem control centers for respiration and heartbeat during a five-hour procedure April 29.
“We’re thrilled that we were able to reduce the amount of tumor to the extent that we have and to allow her this chance for a future,” Schneider said.
Ten days after the operation, Manon looked well but exhausted as she lay in her hospital bed. She wore regular clothing — blue jeans, a pink shirt and purple sneakers — and was no longer hooked up to an IV. When asked how she felt, she replied quietly “bien,” which means “well.”
Manon’s tumor was detected three years ago, but surgeons in France said that the risk of damage to her brain stem ruled out surgery.
Although there was little danger that the tumor would spread to other parts of Manon’s body, it was growing steadily and causing damage to crucial parts of the brain stem. A tracheostomy — a small hole in the neck and windpipe — had to be cut to allow her to breathe and speak.
Certain their daughter would die if the tumor were left untreated, Alain and Marie Beauvais made inquiries through friends and relatives, hoping to find a doctor and a hospital that could perform the surgery.
Manon’s compelling tale made its way through a complex succession of professional and personal connections over three months, beginning with Manon’s godfather, Philippe Blondel, and arriving at Galia Levy, coordinator of Schneider’s brain and spinal tumor center. Levy contacted pediatric neuro-oncologist Mark Atlas around Christmastime.
“She got the file on Manon to me, and I happened to work with Dr. Schneider, one of the handful of people in the world who would do this,” Atlas said. “And I happen to be fluent in French, so all of this worked out. It was really quite surprising that this series of coincidences would occur that would allow Manon to come here and to have this surgery.”
But finding a doctor was only half the problem. The Beauvais family also had to raise more than $100,000 to pay for the procedure. They did that by soliciting donations through a foundation they established, Manon Demain (Manon Tomorrow).
Months of preparations followed as countless pages of medical records and copies of MRI scans crisscrossed the Atlantic. Manon arrived in the United States April 22 and was on the operating table five days later. She was discharged Monday.
The surgery was aided by state-of-the-art imaging technology that allowed surgeons to three-dimensionally map the brain stem to avoid cutting out healthy tissue. Atlas said initial indications were that Manon had suffered no neurological damage from the surgery.
But she did emerge from the operating room minus a tooth.
“The tooth fairy visited Manon during surgery,” Schneider said. “She lost one of her baby teeth. So the tooth fairy gave her an American dollar. When she woke up, Manon looked up and said, ‘What? Not a Euro? That’s more valuable.’”
Reach reporter Alex Ginsberg by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.