Dentist Visit Tips Family Off to Daughter's Grapefruit-Sized Tumor

PHOTO: Journees family says the dental hygienist saved her life. Had the hygienist said nothing, the tumor would have ruptured and Journee could have died.Courtesy Woodward Family
Journee's family says the dental hygienist saved her life. Had the hygienist said nothing, the tumor would have ruptured and Journee could have died.

A trip to the dentist saved an 11-year-old's life, tipping her doctors and mother off to a grapefruit-sized tumor that could have killed her.

At a routine dental cleaning on Jan. 28, the hygienist told Journee Woodard's mother that the whites of Journee's eyes looked yellow, and suggested taking her to a doctor -- just in case.

"I took her outside where there was more sunlight, and her eyes definitely looked yellow," Anna Woodard told ABC News. So she scheduled an appointment for the following Monday.

Three days and several medical tests later, Woodard picked Journee up from school to take her to the doctor for an MRI, trying to keep her calm and informed at the same time. Doctors had found a mass, and though they didn't say it at the time, Woodard said they later told her they were expecting cancer.

When the Woodards arrived at the Children's Hospital at the University of Oklahoma, Journee was admitted as a patient.

"I could tell Journee was getting nervous, especially when we checked into the hospital Thursday night," Woodard said. "We assured her we weren't going to leave her side. And we stayed with her every night at the hospital from the time she was admitted until the time she was released."

PHOTO: Doctors discovered a grapefruit-sized tumor inside Journee Woodard, 11, after her dental hygienist noticed that her eyes were a little bit yellow and suggested that her mother have her checked out.Courtesy Woodward Family
Doctors discovered a grapefruit-sized tumor inside Journee Woodard, 11, after her dental hygienist noticed that her eyes were a little bit yellow and suggested that her mother have her checked out.

On Friday, Feb. 6, Journee underwent a 10-hour "Whipple" surgery to remove the tumor.

It wasn't cancerous, but Woodard said doctors told her the tumor would have ruptured had they not caught it. Had this happened while Journee was sleeping, she could have gone septic and never woken up, Woodard said. And it could have happened while Journee, who plays basketball, was on the court.

"It was one slide down the basketball court from rupturing," Woodard said. "We were that close."

PHOTO: Journee underwent a 10-hour surgery, but the tumor wasnt cancerous.Courtesy Woodward Family
Journee underwent a 10-hour surgery, but the tumor wasn't cancerous.

Doctors originally thought the surgery would be three hours, but they wound up needing to remove part of Journee's liver, pancreas, small intestine and stomach, Woodard said. They also had to remove her entire gallbladder. Then, they "rerouted everything," Woodard said.

The Whipple procedure is necessary because the pancreas is so "integrated" with other organs, according to the Mayo Clinic.

After spending a week recovering in the hospital, Journee got to return to her family's Edmond, Oklahoma, home on Thursday, but she's still hooked up to drains and intravenous lines, her mother said. She has IV nutrition and is unable to eat anything by mouth while her body recovers.

And while she's lost the tumor and pieces of several organs, she hasn't lost her sense of humor.

"I can still smell it!" she shouts at her family as they hover in the kitchen eating breakfast where she can't see.

And though Journee couldn't play basketball on Saturday, she arrived to cheer on her team.

The Children's Hospital confirmed that Journee was a patient from Feb. 5 through Feb. 12, and that she underwent a Whipple procedure.

PHOTO: Journee left the hospital on Thursday and is now recovering at home.Courtesy Woodward Family
Journee left the hospital on Thursday and is now recovering at home.