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The University of Chicago Medicine - Comer Children's Hospital

When a Penny is More than Lucky

You could say a lucky penny saved Ellie Van Rossum's life.

In August 2010, the 4-year-old Wheaton girl swallowed a penny and it caught her mother, Julie, off-guard. Ellie wasn't normally so mischievous.

Julie Van Rossum took her daughter for an X-ray, which showed the coin in Ellie's stomach. The Van Rossums waited for the penny to come out, but it never did. So they went for a follow-up X-ray in October, when the technician at Central DuPage Hospital noticed something off—a shady spot behind Ellie's lung. After administering a CT scan, a doctor detected an 8 cm mass wrapped around Ellie's spine.

"I felt honestly like everything around me stopped," Van Rossum recalled.

Van Rossum was referred to Susan Cohn, MD, director of clinical research for the University of Chicago's Section of Pediatric Hematology and Oncology.

Cohn is a leading expert on neuroblastoma, a solid cancerous tumor that begins in the nerve cells of infants and young children. Though the cancer is rare, with only about 650 new cases each year, Cohn has helped the University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children's Hospital become a go-to treatment center for this pediatric cancer.

Cohn looked at Ellie's scans and told Van Rossum she believed it was a ganglioneuroblastoma, part-benign and part-malignant. Cohn advised that Ellie have the tumor surgically removed to confirm the diagnosis and prevent the risk of it spreading.

"It's possible she would have remained asymptomatic for the rest of her life," Cohn said of Ellie, explaining some neuroblastomas cause no symptoms. "But there was a chance the tumor could 
grow, invade the spinal canal, and cause back pain, leg weakness and other neurologic symptoms."

A Central DuPage surgeon removed Ellie's tumor, which was examined by pathologists from the University of Chicago Medicine and Central DuPage. They confirmed the tumor was a ganglioneuroblastoma.

Ellie's prognosis is "excellent," Cohn said, and Ellie is receiving follow-up scans at Comer Children's to make sure there is no regrowth.