Teacher Spots Tumor, Saves Student's Life

After 20 years in the classroom, teacher Juliet Casanova-Perez knows when something isn't right with one of her kindergarten students. So when Sophie Howell began school last September at Miami's David Fairchild Elementary, Casanova-Perez became worried.

"The way she ran and climbed and the way that she walked -- I felt like it was a little off." Casanova-Perez said.

She didn't want to alarm Sophie's parents, but after she saw Sophie stumble a few times she asked her mother to come in for a chat.

"I was very clear … I'm not a doctor. I don't know what it could be, but I know in my gut that there's something that's not right," the vigilant kindergarten teacher recalled.

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Sophie is the fourth of Betty and Mark Howell's five very active children. They hadn't noticed anything wrong, but the teacher suggested they consult a neurologist.

"I was just grateful that she brought it to our attention," said Betty Howell. "And we did take her to the pediatrician and then to the neurologist and ultimately found out what it was -- the brain tumor."

The tumor wasn't cancerous, but it was causing a liquid buildup that the neurologist, Dr. David Sandberg, said could have killed Sophie.

"We scheduled the surgery immediately for the next day," he said.

The tumor was removed, and today Sophie, a shy but curious 6-year-old, has fully recovered.

What Casanova-Perez didn't tell Sophie's parents was that her own father died of a brain tumor when she was young and that she recognized the symptoms.

"And I said, 'I'm not going to take a chance.'" Casanova-Perez said.

Sophie's father, Mark Howell, is sure the kindergarten teacher's keen eye saved his little girl.

"She saved her life -- there's no way around it!"

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