Bondurant, Iowa

Kali Buchanan was just 3 years old when she was diagnosed with desmoid fibromatoma, a rare cancer that grew in her left jawbone. The petite, dark-haired girl hadn’t been feeling well; when swelling under her jaw grew larger, her parents, Deanna and Dave, took her to a specialist who diagnosed the lump as cancer. He also recommended that they bring her to University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital for care.

“It all happened so fast and was so overwhelming,” says Deanna. At first, doctors thought it was a different type of cancer of the soft tissue, which wouldn’t have been as treatable. The biopsy to pinpoint the type of cancer found that Kali had a desmoid tumor; she was only the second child with this to be treated at the UI.

At this point, the race was on to contain the quick-growing cancer. She had her first and second surgeries in early 2007. “They knew the tumor had penetrated and eaten away through the jaw bone,” says Deanna, “but the aggressive nature of the tumor meant that surgeons had to remove her entire lower left jaw.”

With a third surgery, doctors installed titanium plates and a specially designed craniofacial halo to stabilize Kali’s jaw, which had been rebuilt from two of her rib bones and parts of her pelvic bone.

Kali had another reconstructive surgery in 2008; a year later, in consultation with her local hospital, she started chemotherapy.

Kali is now disease-free.

The diagnosis, her surgeries, and frequent trips to UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital were tough on the whole family, which also includes sister Kayleand brothers Connorand Cole. The Ronald McDonald House, the Rossi Guest House, and Children’s Miracle Network helped the family stay together while in Iowa City. Kali became especially close to some of the nurses as well as the hyperbaric medicine staff who took care of her when she was in the hospital.

Dave adds, “The Children’s Hospital is a wonderful place. Not only did they do a wonderful job with our children, they did a very clear job of communicating with us. They are top in the nation as far as taking care of our daughter.”

Kali, her sister, one of her brothers, and her father started Tae Kwon Do, the Korean martial arts discipline that combines combat techniques, self-defense, sport, exercise, and philosophy.

In the future, Kali faces additional surgeries to build up the reconstructed bone, as well as years of major dental work, but through it all, it’s good to know what’s coming, instead of facing an uncertain future.

In the end, it all came down to being in the right place. Dave says, “We did a lot of research about Kali’s tumor. We didn’t know if we’d end up in some other part of the country. It worked out so tremendously to have a place less than two hours away, right here, to provide all of our needs with some of the top doctors in the nation to care for her.”