A MUM has revealed how her baby was born with a cyst the size of a football under his arm – which left the limb at a 90 degree angle.
His mum Christina DiMartino, 34, was told her unborn son, Matteo, had an abnormally large mass located across his chest and left arm, which covered up to 50 per cent of his body, after going for a routine scan at 13 weeks.
The tot was found to have a rare lymphatic malformation – and medics warned he had just a nine per cent chance of making it to birth.
First-time parents Christina and her husband, Franco, 36, an electrician for the Long Island Railroad, in the US, decided not to terminate the pregnancy, but to give their little boy a chance – and their son was born via emergency c-section on 7.17pm on April 17, 2019.
Matteo tipped the scales at 9lbs 3oz, but it’s thought 3lbs of that – one third of his body weight – was down to the huge cyst which covered his side up to his armpit.
It meant the newborn struggled to move his neck and head, couldn’t roll over, sit up, fit into a car seat or baby clothes, and also left him suffering from frequent skin infections.
At six months old in October last year, Matteo was operated on by a team of specialists at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New York to have the cyst removed.
He is now a happy 10-month-old with a bright future, but will need to be monitored as he grows older.
Christina, a special education science teacher from Long Island, said: “We are so proud of Matteo and all he’s been through.
“He’s defied all the odds to not only survive but to thrive. We knew he was going to be born with a huge cyst, but even we were surprised when we saw it for the first time.
“Despite all of the treatment and operations he’s been through, Matteo is such a happy baby.
“He is now meeting and surpassing milestones for his age. He’s now pulling himself up to stand, crawling, eating foods with his fingers and saying ‘mama’ – we couldn’t love him anymore if we tried.”
It was crippling. It was absolutely the worst days of our lives. I felt like I was going to have a nervous breakdown
Christina and Franco were over-the-moon to discover they were expecting a baby after trying to start a family for a long time.
She said: “I found out that I was pregnant two days before Franco got a new job so it all seemed ‘meant to be’.”
But the couple’s blissful bubble burst at 13-and-a-half weeks when Christina and Franco were told their baby had a “cystic hygroma” at a routine scan.
She said: “I thought: ‘A cyst? How bad can a cyst be? I guess the baby will have to get it removed?’ But the doctor told me that it was a bit more complicated than that and showed me the scan.
“The cyst was already about the size of the baby’s head at this point – at 13-and-a-half weeks. It was located under his left arm, in the armpit region.
“She said there was only a nine per cent chance the baby would make it, and there was a 75 per cent chance that it would be a chromosomal disorder.
“It was crippling. It was absolutely the worst days of our lives and it was so hard trying to be calm and not stress for the baby.
“I felt I was going to have a nervous breakdown. We knew how hard it was to conceive so we decided to stick it out because we would handle whatever God’s plan had set out for us.
“The doctor then presented me with my options which were termination or chorionic villus sampling – that would involve inserting a needle into the placenta to collect fluid which would diagnose a chromosomal abnormality or disorder.”
Christina had two tests for chromosomal disorders, both of which came back negative within a month.
She said: “It was a good feeling. I knew with all these results that the chance of him being born healthy was good.”
But research into their son’s condition left Christina and Franco feeling worse.
She said: “I felt worse seeing all the statistics. It was debilitating to say the least.
“I had one week of excitement of my pregnancy, and that was then on until the birth – it was sad. I actually felt sorry for myself.”
Christina had regular hospital appointments, weekly at first, building up to three times-a-week from 32 weeks.
She said: “The cyst consistently grew. It started growing more rapidly than he was and became the size of his chest.
“His arm was also now involved and stuck in a 90 degree angle inside the womb.
“Though, each test came back in our favour – even the heart exam showed zero defects which surprised us all.”
Christina was then told she would need to have an emergency C-section.
She said: “I went into hospital and assumed it was just for observation, but the doctor told me I would have the baby that day because he thought he may have seen a little fluid in the baby’s cheeks. It turned out to be chubby cheeks!
“He drained 500ml of the cyst’s fluid after the spinal tap, to make sure he would fit out of my belly.
“Then Matteo was born, we called him that because it means ‘gift of God’.
“I didn’t get to hold my baby, they whisked him out immediately for assessment and I only saw a glimpse of his little face on the way out the door.
“He was breathing on his own and surprised doctors that he needed no medical intervention. They were prepared with 24 nurses and doctors in the delivery room.”
Despite knowing their little boy had a huge cyst, Christina and Franco were still shocked when they saw their newborn baby for the first time.
Christina said: “One thing we could not have prepared for was the open lesion on Matteo’s cyst – no-one can figure out how that happened.
“It had deep tight wrinkles skin, all over the cyst as well, like a wrinkly weird-brain-like skin. It was huge! His arm was up and not extremely mobile. I was scared to say the least.
“It was such a shock to see the cyst in real life and was much bigger than the scans made it out to be. It was almost as if there were two chests connected to one another.”
Matteo remained in NICU for two weeks, before he was allowed home.
Christina said: “I didn’t know what to do when it was time to leave the hospital. I had to hold my baby differently to most mums, like a spatula.
“Clothes couldn’t fit him. He had to eat at certain angles to make sure the weight of the cyst wouldn’t block his airway and I was scared. I was honestly terrified to love Matteo.
“I didn’t know at that point how serious it was really going to be or if this was life-threatening. I felt guilty. It was the scariest feeling ever. Before long, his beautiful face made me succumb and my love grew.”
However, Matteo developed severe cellulitis and infections.
Christina explained: “He was hospitalised several times and sometimes we would be there for weeks at a time.
“Throughout these bouts of infections, he would be on strong IV antibiotics and would have a PICC line put into place.
“The first and longest hospital visit was when he was only one-and-a-half months old.
“During this stay his vascular specialist strongly recommended we start a form of chemotherapy.
“After seeing how his whole body swelled up and activated new cystic areas, we decided it was going to be worth a try. It definitely wound up helping shrink the cyst – leading up to surgery.”
But before surgery Matteo’s cyst was so large, it prevented him from wearing normal clothes – many of which had to be altered.
Christina said: “He was in six month clothes from birth. He couldn’t sit up without the cyst being propped up. He couldn’t be picked up normally.
“His arm had very limited range of motion. His head stayed turned in one direction due to the arm.
“His balance was completely off. His rolling over and sitting up were delayed until after the surgery. There would be no way of crawling had we not done the surgery.”
I was honestly terrified to love Matteo. I didn’t know if his condition would be life threatening
At six months old, Matteo had his first surgery in an eight-hour op.
Christina said: “They also were able to remove all of the wrinkled skin and open lesion, along with his left nipple that was in there.
“We predict the cyst was upward of 3lbs at birth – one third of his total weight.
“The cyst was much smaller at removal, due to the medicine Matteo had been on. It was also draining often at home and would leak a litre of lymphatic fluid all over my house.”
It was such a shock to see the cyst in real life and was much bigger than the scans made it out to be. It was almost as if there were two chests connected to one another
Three months on, Matteo’s scars are beginning to heal and fade.
Christina said: “I think the surgery was worse for Franco and I actually. He was out of it mostly for the first two days after surgery and then the third day he woke up smiling and his usual self.
“We have noticed such a difference in our boy! He was sitting up and holding up his body just days after we got home. It was so emotional for us.
“A day after his last drain was out, he was rolling back and forth. He was happier than usual and this made us realise how truly uncomfortable he must have really been.
“Now, at 10 months, Matteo is meeting and surpassing his milestones. He is receiving physical therapy three times a week and his little arm is fully functional.
“He also has had no more infections since surgery. He does receive infusions monthly but most of his blood work is now within normal range.”
Matteo still has other growths on his body, with his mum admitting: “They may need to be removed but it’s likely they will return – possibly with a vengeance.”
Of the future, she added: “We just don’t want him to get made fun of because he has lumps or a big arm, we don’t want him to have a complex, we don’t want him to have any limitations – it’s hard to think about all the ‘what-ifs’.”