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Child diagnosed with brain cancer hopes to save other children by donating her tumor tissue

Posted at 4:37 PM, Oct 01, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-01 23:24:17-04

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — At one point Bella Nevins was living the ideal Florida childhood.

"It was a normal life," said her mom Patti Haines. "I was taking her to school and then after school activities."

But then, the 12-year-old started getting dizzy.  

"I don't really know what was happening," said Bella.

After six months of tests, an MRI finally gave them the answer: a brain tumor.

"Within 12 hours we were in surgery," said Haines.

"We stayed as strong as we could with her," she said.

Bella was diagnosed with Medulloblastoma, the most common malignant tumor found in children, inflicting anywhere from 250 to 500 kids a year.

"She is my baby," said Haines through tears. "This was so heartbreaking."

The good news is that surgeons removed the entire tumor. But the family buckled in for a year long painful journey.

"The reoccurrence rate without any additional treatment is extremely high, probably 100 percent,"  said Dr. Stacie Stapleton,  Director of Pediatric neuro-oncology at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital

The doctor said that meant chemotherapy and radiation.

"Radiation can be extremely damaging to the brain especially in children," she said.

But then, Dr. Stapleton's team made a surprising discovery from Bella's tumor. Her diagnosis may be the most common, but it turns out her genetics aren't.

She has a unique mutation, that made her a candidate for a clinical trial without radiation.

"It's an extremely good prognosis," said Dr. Stapleton.

It gives Bella a second chance at life.

"Everything happens for a reason," said Bella.

And Bella feels she has a chance to make a difference. The family decided to donate her brain tissue.

"They are really an inspiration," said Dr. Stapleton.

Now scientists will study her tumor at a new lab at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital in hopes of finding a key to cure this cancer in other children.

For Bella, it's back to just being a kid. The youngest of three, her mom said she's now the family role model.

"She made us stronger. She made us all closer, and we all fight a little bit better." said Haines.

Bella has this advice to other kids:  "Don't give up."

For more information on the hospital, click here.