Remi Storch is a lively little girl with big brown eyes, short curly brown hair, and a friendly smile. She loves singing, dancing, swimming, and dressing up in lace and ribbons. She’s still deciding what to be when she grows up – a dancer, an ice skater, a model, or maybe a teacher. At eight years old, this Tampa resident has plenty of time to decide.
Time, however, was not on her side in late 2005, when she began having excruciating pain in her right leg. Her parents, Catherine and Patrick Storch, took her to a local emergency room where physicians found a lump in her abdomen and recommended emergency surgery.
During this operation, surgeons made a grim discovery. The lump was cancerous. A tumor about the size of a grapefruit was wrapped dangerously around vital blood vessels and nerves in Remi’s abdomen. Thirty minutes into the surgery, the doctors closed her up and told her parents they couldn’t operate. The procedure Remi needed required a physician experienced in this type of surgery.
Remi had rhabdomyosarcoma, a cancer made of cells that normally develop into skeletal muscles of the body. Rather than invading organs, these treacherous cells wrap themselves around major body structures. In Remi’s case, the rhabdomyosarcoma had developed in one of the most perilous areas to operate – right where the aorta, a major blood vessel, divides into two arteries that go to the legs. Doctors call that area “tiger country” because of the danger of operating there.
Remi’s parents conducted a national search to find the right doctor to operate on their child. They found him at Tampa General Hospital. Dr. Charles Paidas is a nationally-renowned pediatric surgeon with vast experience in rhabdomyosarcoma surgery. Dr. Paidas is Tampa General’s chief of pediatric surgery and professor of surgery and pediatrics at the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine.
After more than three months of chemotherapy to shrink the tumor, Remi underwent surgery at Tampa General. It was Dr. Paidas’ job, with the assistance of Dr. Murray Shames, a vascular surgeon and assistant professor of surgery and radiology with USF, and a team of nurses, to completely remove the tumor without damaging the vessels and nerves that serve the surrounding organs.
The surgery lasted seven hours. Remi survived the surgery, but at that point doctors still didn’t know if the operation was a success. A month later, that question was answered: a CT scan showed the tumor was gone.
As a further precaution, Remi began a month of daily radiation therapy and went back to a weekly regimen of chemotherapy. By August, with all her treatments completed, doctors declared Remi cancer-free. Today, Remi is still under the watchful eye of her physicians, with regular checkups and full body scans. There has been no sign of a recurrence.
Now Remi can dream about a future filled with possibilities. For that, her mother thanks Tampa General and Dr. Paidas. “Dr. Paidas is the most amazing person I have ever met, and I will never, ever forget him. He saved my daughter,” Catherine says.