Nearly one year old, Olivia Schmidt being called 'one in a million'

Born with tumor on pituitary gland

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Doctors call Olivia Schmidt one in a million.

Olivia was born in August 2016 with a craniopharyngioma, a brain tumor that forms near or on the pituitary gland, impacting many bodily functions including metabolism, blood pressure, growth and reproduction. 

Not only are the tumors rare, they’re not usually found in newborns. But because it was identified early, it could be treated before it caused any more damage to Olivia’s developing body.  

“Tests showed that her pituitary gland wasn’t functioning appropriately because there was a tumor on it,” Olivia's mother, Jennifer Schmidt said. “Three days after that, our little girl was having brain surgery.”

During the delicate six-hour surgery at Wolfson Children's Hospital, Dr. Philipp Aldana and his pediatric neurosurgery team went in through Olivia’s forehead and carefully made their way underneath the lobes of her brain, navigating around critical structures like the optic nerves and carotid arteries. Once at the site, they removed the entire blueberry-sized tumor, along with her pituitary gland.

“Chemotherapy and radiation were risky to her developing brain because she was so young, so we made the decision to remove it,” said Philipp Aldana, MD, pediatric neurosurgeon at UF College of Medicine – Jacksonville, and co-medical director of the Stys Neuroscience Institute at Wolfson Children’s. “With craniopharyngiomas, surgery is only effective if we can remove the entire tumor because of the high likelihood that it will come back.”

As a consequence, Olivia will be on life-long hormone replacement. But having the surgery at such a young age spares her from the many developmental delays she would have endured otherwise.

In addition, the growing tumor would eventually have caused problems like vision loss and headaches as it pressed on surrounding tissues.