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Taylor's 'inoperable' tumor successfully removed
By Stacy St. Clair and Brian Hill | Daily Herald Staff

Laurie Radtke comforts her daughter Taylor before her surgery Thursday at St. Joseph Hospital nd Medical Center in Phoenix Arizona.


Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

Surgeons keep an eye on a monitor as they work on Taylor Radtke today in Phoenix.


Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

Dr. Peter Nakaji, right, performs the surgical procedure on Taylor Radtke Thursday.


Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

Dr. Peter Nakaji, left, and Dr. Spetzler, center, remove the tumor from Taylor Radtke.


Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

Laurie Radtke hears the good news from from Dr. Peter Nakaji that Taylor's surgery went well.


Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

Laurie and Jeff Radtke embrace after hearing the good news that their daughter Taylor's surgery went better than expected.


Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

Laurie Radtke tells Taylor what a fighter she is after she had her surgery Thursday.


Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

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Published: 10/25/200 2:47 PM | Updated: 10/26/2007 8:43 AM

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Less than an hour after her daughter's brain surgery, Laurie Radtke went into the recovery room and pressed her forehead against her little girl's brow.

"Thank you for fighting so hard, Pumpkin," Laurie said.

Her daughter, 7-year-old Taylor, gave a groggy nod in response and faded back to sleep. The small gesture, which lasted only seconds, reduced her mother to tears.

Laurie Radtke wept out of relief following an emotional two-week odyssey that led her Johnsburg family to an Arizona doctor willing to operate on Taylor's brain tumor.

Earlier Coverage
Taylor Radtke
Seven-year-old Taylor Radtke, diagnosed with a rare tumor that threatens her vision and mobility, needs life-saving surgery that few doctors are willing to perform.
How you can help
DONATE - Donations for Taylor Radtke are being accepted at First Midwest Bank's Johnsburg branch, 3805 N. Johnsburg Road, and McHenry branch, 1308 N. Route 31. Funds raised will be put toward research, travel expenses and medical costs.
SEND A CARD - If you'd like to write the Radtkes a card, please send them courtesy of Amy Mack, Daily Herald, 385 Airport Road, Suite A, Elgin, IL 60123.

She wept out of exhaustion after several sleepless nights spent wondering whether the surgeons could even partially remove the lesion that threatened her daughter's mobility and, ultimately, her young life.

And she wept out of sheer joy following a successful operation that defied expectations and left no visible trace of the potentially fatal tumor.

"I'm still having a hard time comprehending what we've been given," Laurie said via telephone from her daughter's bedside. "We've been given a life with our daughter. We have been given a future."

Doctors have cautioned the family that there could still be post-operative complications such as paralysis. But Taylor has shown many positive signs of recovery, including mobility in her limbs, a strong eye test and the ability to stick out her tongue.

In the coming hours, the medical staff at St. Joseph's Hospital & Medical Center in Phoenix will monitor the second-grader's condition for any buildup of cerebral fluid. If there are no complications, she could be released as early as today.

"Things went well," said neurosurgeon Peter Nakaji, who performed the surgery. "We couldn't be more pleased. She has an excellent chance of living a great life."

Earlier this month, Laurie Radtke and her husband, Jeff, found themselves in a battle against both time and modern medicine to save Taylor. Their daughter had been diagnosed with a brain tumor, and 27 doctors had refused to operate on the lesion because it was anchored too close to the carotid artery.

After the Daily Herald chronicled the family's plight, a reader recommended the Radtkes meet with Arizona neurosurgeon Robert Spetzler, director of St. Joseph's Barrow Neurological Institute. Spetzler agreed to operate on Taylor, and the family began a journey across the United States that, among other things, included a stop in Southern California to fulfill Taylor's dream of visiting the San Diego Zoo.

"It's hard to believe that all of this has happened in less than three weeks," Laurie said. "We were so desperate to find a miracle and now we have one. It just took one doctor to say 'yes' to us."

The Radtkes' miracle began hours before the sun rose over the Arizona desert Thursday. Jeff and Laurie donned "Cheering for Taylor" T-shirts -- a nod to her passion for cheerleading -- and headed to the hospital where she was being prepped for surgery.

The family laughed and told silly jokes in the room until the medical staff came to wheel Taylor into surgery around 7 a.m. The couple kissed their eldest child, told her they loved her and promised to be there when she woke up.

Jeff and Laurie wept in those final moments. Taylor smiled.

"She's a fighter," Laurie said. "And she still has a lot of fight left in her."

During the surgery, the family -- including Taylor's 5-year-old brother, Blake -- sat in the waiting area and read messages people had left for them on their personal Web site. The words of hope, inspiration, introspection and prayer sustained them as the minutes slowly ticked by.

Inside the operating room, doctors had entered Taylor's brain through her nose and were pleased with what they discovered. The tumor was a millimeter away from the carotid artery, a minuscule space large enough for the surgeons to go in and remove it entirely.

"We always go in full of hope," Nakaji said. "When we saw it wasn't stuck to the artery, we knew that was all we needed."

Doctors emerged from the operating room nearly three hours later and told Taylor's parents that things had gone better than expected. They would have to await an MRI, however, to determine exactly how well.

"This is awesome news," Laurie said after the initial briefing. "We could not have asked for more."

And yet she could. Less than an hour later, the doctors returned to report that the MRI showed no visible signs of the tumor. Spetzler extended his hand to shake Laurie's.

"We're way beyond that," Laurie said as she pulled him into an emotional hug.

The Radtkes spent the rest of the afternoon in the recovery room, where they told a sleeping Taylor how much they loved her and that her surgery had gone well. Laurie sang "You Are My Sunshine" to her daughter and promised her mashed potatoes and ice cream once she was cleared to eat.

"The gift we've received is beyond comprehension," Laurie said. "This is better than the best feeling I've ever had."

While basking in the family's euphoria, Taylor's father softly asked for a few more blessings upon his daughter: No more hospitals, no more surgeries, no more life-threatening illnesses.

"Hopefully," he said, "she can just be a little girl now."