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Miami doctors remove tennis ball-sized tumor from fetus' mouth in surgical first

leyna gonzalez, jackson memorial hospital, oral teratoma
This screengrab shows an ultrasound of Leyna Gonzalez who had an oral teratoma, a fast-growing tumor that grows on a fetus while in the womb. CBS Miami

(CBS News) Leyna Gonzalez is a healthy 20-month-old girl, but that wasn't the case before she was born.

During her mom Tammy's pregnancy, doctors saw through an ultrasound that her unborn daughter appeared to be blowing a bubble. It turned out to be a tennis-ball sized tumor, CBS Miami reported.

"It's the most horrible feeling you could ever image; physically, emotionally, mentally," Tammy Gonzalez said at a press conference at Jackson Memorial Hospital on Thursday.

Leyna had an oral teratoma, a rare congenital tumor that grows from the mouth that's thought to affect anywhere from one in 35,000 to one in 200,000 live births, according to the American Journal of Roentgenology.

Doctors told Tammy her daughter likely wouldn't survive the birth and if she did, she'd require an immediate tracheotomy to help her breath and would have multiple surgeries. She didn't want to terminate the pregnancy so she sought out the help of fetal surgeon Dr. Ruben Quintero at the University of Miami's Jackson Memorial Hospital, the hospital said in a statement.

According to the hospital, Quintero is a pioneer in fetal medicine who has treated many birth defects and high-risk conditions while the baby was still in the womb. After explaining the risk, he agreed to take on Tammy's case with fellow fetal surgeon Dr. Eftichia Kontopoulous, also of Jackson Memorial Hospital.

"The concern with these tumors is that they can grow very rapidly. And they can cause bleeding from the fetus - from the baby - into the tumor," Quintero said at the press conference. "That bleeding can cause the death of the baby."

In May 2010, the surgeons used an endoscope guided by ultrasound to perform the first of its kind surgery to remove the tumor from Leyna's mouth when she was 17-weeks old. According to CBS Miami, Tammy was awake to watch the procedure unfold from the ultrasound.

"I could see it floating down," Gonzalez said of the tumor. "It was like this huge weight had been lifted off. It just floated away and I could see her face."

On October 1 , 2010 Leyna was born healthy at 8 pounds, 1 ounce. If it weren't for a tiny scar on her mouth, you'd never know the curly-haired, energetic toddler had the potentially fatal tumor.

Watch more from CBS Miami on this first-of-it's-kind surgery: