Groundbreaking Surgery Saves 7-Year-Old

Heather McNamara
Heather McNamara, who recently had a groundbreaking surgery to remove stomach cancer.
CBS
These days, 7-year-old Heather McNamara and her family are all smiles. But three months ago, they were losing hope.

CBS News correspondent Kelly Wallace reports doctors had told the family that Heather's stomach tumor -- her second in three years -- was tangled in her vital organs, making it inoperable and untreatable with chemo.

"They told us she was not going to make it," said Tina McNamara, Heather's mother. "It was horrible for her."

But then the Long Island, N.Y., family heard about transplant surgeon Dr. Tomoaki Kato, the only transplant surgeon known to have dared this type of surgery before, on a 62-year-old woman with an abdominal tumor.

"He was the only one who said 'yes, we can take it out'," said Joe McNamara, Heather's father.

To remove the tennis-ball sized tumor, Kato took out Heather's liver, small and large intestines, and other vital organs. He then re-implanted everything but her stomach, pancreas and spleen, which were destroyed by the cancer.

In case Heather's liver couldn't be saved, her dad starved himself in preparation to donate part of his.

"I couldn't eat all day until Dr. Kato said I could eat," Joe McNamara said.

Kato and his team of seven surgeons operated for 23 hours, taking a physical toll on the doctors.

"At the end of the case, literally, I was about to collapse," Kato said.

The only visible sign of Heather's groundbreaking surgery is a temporary food pump in her backpack. However, without a spleen, she runs the risk of infection, and without a pancreas, she's now diabetic. Heather left the hospital Tuesday, which is an important milestone. There's still a chance of recurrence, but doctors say if her cancer does not come back, she'll likely live a normal life.

Wallace asked Heather if she had advice for other boys and girls.

"That there is hope," Heather said.

They McNamara's arrived with no hope, and they found it at New York Presbyterian Hospital.