Mar 28, 2024, 11:38:18 AM CDT Mar 28, 2024, 11:51:11 AM CDT

Jade's story: Overcoming two health conditions and becoming a soccer star

After Jade was diagnosed with two unrelated health conditions as a baby, her family worried if she would even be able to walk. But that’s all a distant memory to the young soccer sensation thanks to care teams at Children’s Health.

Jade standing in front of a Mexico sign while wearing a soccer jersey. Jade standing in front of a Mexico sign while wearing a soccer jersey.

Juan remembers one moment of his daughter's 5-month stay at Children's Health℠ like it was yesterday. Jade was only a baby and in the ICU. One of her nurses delivered the news that the circulation in one of her feet was becoming so poor that they might have to amputate her toes.

"I prayed and prayed," Juan said. "I wanted her to be able to walk and run. And I really hoped she would play soccer."

She would play soccer — with the skill and tenacity to compete on an international stage and earn a full scholarship to Baylor University. But before she could do that, she had to overcome not one but two health conditions before her fourth birthday.

"I was too young to remember but when I see pictures from that time, I'm in disbelief that that was me," said Jade, now 18. "Hearing and seeing what I went through as a baby has made me realize how blessed I am. It's made me realize that I can get through anything."

It all started when Jade was just a few weeks old.

An unexplained symptom

Jade's mom Tiffanie first noticed something was wrong when she was changing Jade's diaper. Jade had what looked like a tiny scab on her bottom. Then Jade started to cry with every diaper change. When the scab got bigger instead of smaller, Tiffanie rushed her to Children's Health.

One doctor after another examined Jade. The dermatologist had the first answers: Jade had a hemangioma, a benign tumor made of dilated blood vessels. These types of tumors are relatively common in newborns. They can look like a red lump when they grow on the skin, or an area of blue-ish colored swelling if they're beneath the skin. Fortunately, they go away on their own over time. Unfortunately, they can be uncomfortable and there's not much doctors can do to treat them. They just have to run their course.

Tiffanie also told the care team that Jade would holler or cry when she held her in certain ways. That's when Jade's neurologist ordered an MRI, to see if something inside her body was causing pain. The MRI revealed that Jade also had internal hemangiomas, some of which were pressing against internal organs and likely causing pain.

It also showed something more concerning and completely unrelated: Jade had a tethered spinal cord. This happens when the spinal cord is attached to tissue around the spine. If left untreated, it can cause nerve damage which can cause a person to lose bladder control — and their ability to walk.

"They told us that the first signs of a kid with a tethered spinal cord is that they start tripping out of the blue, then start to lose feeling in their legs," Tiffanie says. "So, it was by the Lord's miracle that we found this out early."

Her early diagnosis meant Jade could get surgery to detach her spinal cord before she had any nerve damage. But first, the hemangiomas needed to heal.

Months and months of healing and recovery

Baby picture of Jade wearing a Christmas hat.The healing process was long and painstaking for the external hemangioma on Jade's bottom and the internal ones too. The one on her bottom ulcerated, meaning it turned into an open wound. This complication happens in around 10 percent of babies and doctors don't know why. She also eventually needed an embolization procedure, to cut off blood supply to the internal hemangiomas so they would stop growing. It was after this procedure that her care team started to worry — blood was not flowing properly to one of her feet.

"They were able to use a blood thinner to help restore circulation in her foot so, by the grace of God, they didn't have to amputate her toes," Tiffanie says.

Jade stayed in the hospital for five months, and the nurses became like family. They gave Jade her own tiny nurses' outfit when it was time to go home. Then came more months of close monitoring and slow healing of her hemangiomas.

"She basically had to be on her stomach all the time, so I would carry her around on a pillow like a king or queen carries jewels," Tiffanie says. "I learned how to change her diaper upside down and would sleep on the floor next to her all night so I could change her diaper as quickly as possible when she needed it."

A 7-hour surgery

After many long months, the wound on her bottom healed. Finally, at age 3, Jade was ready for the surgery. Bradley Weprin, M.D., Pediatric Neurosurgeon and Director of the Neurosurgery Program at Children's Health and Professor at UT Southwestern, would do the procedure.

"With a tethered spinal cord, the lower part of the spinal cord is essentially fixed in place and not free to move as a child moves and grows. It gets stretched over time which can lead to back or leg pain, weakness or lack of sensation in the lower extremities, problems with the feet and ankles, and abnormalities bladder and bowel function," Dr. Weprin says.

During Jade's 7-hour surgery, Tiffanie and Juan prayed.

"The surgery felt like forever," Juan says. "But the recovery felt easy compared to everything she'd already been through. As soon as she was cleared, she started kicking around a soccer ball. We started with seven little girls playing soccer in our backyard. Now, we have a soccer club of 1,800 players."

A star on the soccer field

Years later, Tiffanie remembers running into Dr. Weprin at the soccer field, who was also there watching his kid play soccer.

"My goal is to make life better for children and families," Dr. Weprin says. "So, getting to see someone like Jade achieve their personal goals is icing on the cake."

Jade being held by family member in front of a poster with flags.Jade wouldn't just play soccer in a community league or for her local club. She'd become a world class player and with deep pride in playing for Mexico's youth national team — wearing the jersey of the country where her dad was born.

"I'll never forget the first moment I put that jersey on," Jade says. "It was an honor and a privilege. I'm Mexican-American but I grew up in America and only speaking English, so I didn't feel as close to my dad's side. Wearing that jersey and representing my family and my last name was a feeling I cannot describe."

It was also a dream come true for Juan, Jade's longstanding coach.

"I've had other players make national teams but to have your own child make that level was something else," Juan says. "I remember my prayer for her to just be able to run and play, so for her to make the Mexico team, I was overcome with joy and happy tears."

Jade has since played in India, Italy, the Czech Republic and many other countries. She and her family made a plan: If she scores, she'd grab her ear. That's how her family would know she was thinking of them. They'll never forget one moment from a game against the Dominican Republic.

"There were all of these photos and videos where I was grabbing my ear after scoring a goal. I knew my family was there with me," Jade says.

An overcomer with a bright future

Jade's next chapter will begin at Baylor University, where she plans to play soccer and study to become a physical therapist. Juan couldn't be prouder.

Jade kicking soccer balls."If I were to describe Jade as one thing, it would be an overcomer," Juan says. "She's tiny, only 4 feet 11 inches, but she's so strong that the other players can't push her off. She's team oriented in a way that soccer is always about the team, and never about her. When you look back at all of the adversity she faced from day one and to see where she is now, it is truly amazing."

Tiffanie is just as proud, and has a message for families facing health challenges.

"Seeing Jade, you would never realize what she's gone through," she says. "I would have never thought that she'd be traveling the world, playing soccer with her feet that she wasn't supposed to be able to walk on and toes that could have been amputated. In those early days, we had no idea what Jade's journey was going to be, but God had a plan. I'd tell other parents to just keep having faith and loving your baby because this too shall pass and there will be greater days ahead."

Learn more

Children's Health offers the most advanced care, procedures and technology in pediatric neurosurgery. Our team of experts works together to create a custom treatment plan for each child to give them the best chance at a healthy and active life. Learn more.

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