'Miracle' child faces new challenge

Heather McNamara of East Islip, hosts a blood Heather McNamara of East Islip, hosts a blood donation drive at the Islip Terrace Fire Department in Islip Terrace. (Feb. 15, 2010) Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

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Heather McNamara, the Islip Terrace girl who braved a rare and risky operation in which doctors removed six of her organs to extract a tumor, has become the local face of another medical malady: Type 1 diabetes.

The 10-year-old soon-to-be sixth grader at East Islip Middle School has suffered from the disease -- also known as juvenile diabetes -- since her lifesaving cancer surgery three years ago, said her mother, Tina McNamara.

But the ailment hasn't softened Heather's -- or her family's -- resolve to fight back. "We hit cancer," Tina, 44, said. "We won that battle. Now, we have to battle diabetes."

The McNamaras are hosting on Aug. 19 "Craving 4 A Cure," a pizza and live-music-filled afternoon to raise money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. This year's event is scheduled to run from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Mary's Pizza & Pasta in Islip Terrace.

Along with live music and pizza, the event will include a car show, local vendors and pony rides courtesy of the Parkview Riding Center of Central Islip.

Heather got diabetes after a tennis ball-sized tumor -- wrapped around her pancreas -- was removed in 2009. Though the risky, 23-hour-long surgery required removing six of the girl's organs, she now plays soccer and visits similar children in hospitals, Tina McNamara said.

The procedure three years ago was the first known case of its kind on a child in the world, doctors said.

A team of seven surgeons and eight other clinicians were needed to remove the tumor, which had wrapped around several key organs and blood vessels.

Doctors removed Heather's stomach, pancreas, liver, spleen, small intestine and large intestine -- along with the tumor. The liver and intestines were reattached. Her pancreas, stomach and spleen were too damaged and were permanently removed. Doctors knew that without her pancreas, she would suffer from diabetes.

Still her mother in 2009 described Heather as "a little miracle."

Last week, Tina McNamara said, "God gave her a second chance. And with that second chance, we need to make a difference."

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