DILI, Timor-Leste - A young Timorese girl returned to the Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) Aug. 17, two years after the successful removal of a brain tumor identified by a Pacific Partnership 2008 medical team.

Before having the tumor removed, Natalia Dos Santos, a 12-year-old girl, suffered from headaches, stunted growth, and impaired vision.  As a result of a CAT scan aboard Mercy in 2008, doctors identified the presence of a brain tumor, known as acraniopharyngioma, as the source of her symptoms.  In addition to causing her headaches and visual symptoms, the tumor also inhibited her pituitary gland, which resulted in her stunted growth. With the assistance of the Portuguese Embassy Natalia was then flown to Lisbon, Portugal where neurosurgeons successfully removed the tumor.

Two years later, Dos Santos visited Mercy as a follow-up to her surgery in 2008. She no longer suffers from headaches and her vision has returned to normal.

“I was surprised to see her return to the ship. It was a terrific experience to see how well she was doing after excision of a significant brain tumor,” said Lt. Cmdr. (Dr.) Harlan Dorey, a pediatrician embarked aboard Mercy. Dorey met with Dos Santos Aug. 17 to review her continuing treatment.

“Her treatment regimen includes desmopressin and glucocorticoids, which replace hormones that are triggered by parts of the pituitary gland,” Dorey said.

In addition, every six months since her surgery, Dos Santos has been flying to Lisbon, Portugal, for a head CAT scan (to ensure no recurrence of tumor) and bloodwork. She is a fourth grader with 8 siblings.

“It’s nice to be back on Mercy since everyone is so nice,” stated Dos Santos. She added she was happy to return and looks forward to someday becoming a doctor.

Dorey says that doctors are still monitoring Dos Santos closely.

“Natalia’s growth is still a problem,” said Dorey. “She is small for her age, and without growth hormone, will continue to be small. It is a current challenge trying to provide this expensive drug to her in a rural area of Timor-Leste, since the drug is injected and needs to be refrigerated.”

Mercy will remain in Dili, Timor-Leste through Aug. 24, conducting medical and dental civic action programs, in addition to an engineering civic action project. Before Timor-Leste, Mercy conducted visits to Vietnam, Cambodia and Indonesia.

Pacific Partnership 2010 is the fifth in a series of annual U.S. Pacific Fleet humanitarian and civic assistance endeavors aimed at strengthening regional partnerships among U.S. government organizations, partner nations, and international humanitarian and relief organizations.