— A vertical scar on his right temple, above the ear and just where his hairline ends, is the only sign that 3-month-old Sam Esquibel is more than the perfect baby he appears to be. He’s also a medical marvel.
“He is a miracle,” his mother, Tiffnie Esquibel, told TODAY’s Matt Lauer Tuesday in New York as little Sam fussed on her lap. “I just love him so much.”
Sam, dressed in a lumberjack shirt, made his first national appearance on TODAY after making headlines and amazing doctors three days after his Oct. 1 birth. He has become known as the baby born with a foot in his brain, and even three months after the tumor containing the tiny foot and other partially formed body parts was removed during a delicate and successful surgery, doctors are still debating exactly what it was inside baby Sam’s head.
For their part, the Esquibels are just happy to have a healthy and happy baby. The Colorado couple had been trying for most of their 13-year marriage to have a child, and had finally resigned themselves to being childless when Tiffnie became pregnant with Sam.
Tiffnie had a completely normal pregnancy. In fact, she told NBC News in a prerecorded segment, “I enjoyed every minute of it.”
Near the end of her pregnancy, Tiffnie Esquibel started to get very big, and her obstetrician suggested inducing birth. Tiffnie decided against the procedure, but a week later went in for a routine ultrasound scan to make sure everything was still fine.
Her doctor told her there was something wrong. What appeared to be a tumor had appeared in the baby’s brain. Whether it was cancerous or not could not be determined until Sam was born, and the doctor advised inducing labor immediately. Tiffnie agreed, and after four hours of labor delivered Sam.
‘Get him baptized’
On Oct. 2, Tiffnie and her husband, Manny, got the news no parent wants to hear: Their newborn son had a large tumor in his brain. A neurosurgeon asked them if they were religious. When they told him they were Roman Catholics, he advised them to get Sam baptized immediately.
The Esquibels had waited what seemed like forever for a child, and now that they had a son, they were being told he might not survive.
“That was the toughest part that I went through — when they started saying, ‘You might want to get your son baptized.’ That was very hard to take,” Manny Esquibel told Lauer.
Sam was transferred to the pediatric center at the Memorial Hospital for Children in Colorado Springs On Oct. 3, neurosurgeon Dr. Paul Grabb led a team that operated on Sam’s brain to remove the tumor. When he opened the tumor, a tiny, perfectly formed foot popped out.
“A lot of us who have been in practice long enough like to think we’ve seen everything,” Grabb told NBC News. “Well, we haven’t. The foot quite literally popped out of the tumor. I stopped operating, since I’m not used to seeing a foot in the brain.”
One for the books
After going back to work, Grabb removed the tumor, which was found to contain other partially formed body parts, including a thigh and a hand. The tumor would prove to be noncancerous, and monthly tests on Sam have shown that it is not growing back.
When Grabb came out of surgery, he and other members of the surgical team told the Esquibels what he had found.
“They just looked at us and said, ‘It’s just remarkable. It’s for the books what we found,’ ” Tiffnie Esquibel said. “We were stunned. We didn’t know what to think when they told us what they found.”
What makes them think of Sam as a miracle is that if Tiffnie had agreed to induced labor a week earlier, the final ultrasound would not have been taken and the tumor would not have been discovered.
If that had happened, it could have continued to grow, and either killed or severely damaged Sam.
Rare or rarer
Dr. Nancy Snyderman, chief medical editor for NBC News, joined the Esquibels with Lauer and said that the tumor could be one of two rare birth conditions. The first and more common is a teratoma, which is a mass that contains various incompletely formed body parts that may include hair and teeth.
“I’ve seen quite a few teratomas in my life, in the neck, in the chest, in the abdomen,” Snyderman said. “Never one in the brain.”
She said that the other condition, of which fewer than 100 have ever been reported in the world, is called fetus in fetu. The term literally means “fetus in fetus” and occurs when one twin engulfs the other in the womb. The engulfed twin feeds off the other as a sort of parasite and continues to grow and develop. Unless removed, it usually proves fatal.
Doctors who have reviewed Sam’s case tend to think the tumor was a teratoma. Snyderman said that Sam will surely become a case study in a little-understood medical phenomenon.
At present Sam tends to fix his gaze toward the right side of his head, where the tumor was. He is undergoing physical therapy for that and is improving steadily. Other than that, he shows no effects from the tumor.
Whatever medical science calls him, Sam’s parents will always see him as their miracle baby.
“He’s turned our life around,” Manny Esquibel told Lauer. “That’s for sure.”
To learn more about Sam and to donate to help defray his medical costs visit samesquibel.com.