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Miracle Outcome: Radical Surgery Saves Life

After thinking she just had a bad stomach bug, a metro woman received a devastating diagnosis.

WHO TV | Stephanie Moore

Earlier this month, 24-year old Caitlin Francomb found out she had cancer and was given just weeks to live.

However, doctors at Methodist Hospital in Des Moines decided to try something radical.

It's a surgery that has only been successfully completed a handful of times across the country and has never been performed here in Iowa.

Francomb said she was feeling a little off but thought it was just a stomach bug.

"I just thought, okay you're sick, but just push through it you'll be better in a week," says Francomb.

Francomb said her stomach pains continued, but after visiting a walk-in clinic, they thought it was just a bug as well.

However, Francomb said the pain returned and was even worse, so she went to the Emergency Room.

Photo of Catlin Francomb"They schedule an ultrasound, and it's on the ultrasound that they come back and tell us there is this mass," says Francomb.

Doctors found a tumor, about the size of a football, wrapped around her liver.

It came with a devastating diagnosis.

"The fact that her circulation was completely blocked from the lower body, back to the heart and the liver was congested meant that she wouldn't have lived more than a week or two," says Doctor Qasim Chaudhry with Iowa Methodist Hospital.

With the grim diagnosis, Dr. Chaudhry decided to perform exploratory surgery to see if anything could be done.

"They could open me up and say there is nothing we can do.  They would have to just send me on off to hospice, and that would be the end of this story," says Francomb.

Photo of Dr. Qasim ChaudryBut because Caitlin was young and otherwise healthy, Dr. Chaudhry suggested a radical surgery that could save her life.

During surgery, blood flow was cut off to her liver and with the organ still attached to her body doctors got to work.

"Once we had the liver cooled down, packed over with ice, we were able to remove the tumor reconstruct the blood vessels and then re-implant the liver," says Dr. Chaudhry.

Two-thirds of Caitlin's liver had to be removed, but the tumor was gone, and Caitlin was told she would make a complete recovery.

"The idea that I went from not knowing if I had another month to live to back to the real world and having my whole life ahead of me is the most surreal feeling you'll ever get," says Francomb.

Caitlin says she's lucky and wants her story to be a reminder for others to listen to your body if something isn't quite right.

"Don't self-diagnose anything, if your body doesn't feel like your body go have it looked at," says Francomb.

Doctors say they expect Caitlin to go home this week.

She'll have to spend several weeks on bed rest but otherwise will make a  complete recovery.

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