In 2015, doctors gave Gianna Grace Masciantonio a few weeks to live. Named after Saint Gianna and the Blessed Mother, Gianna seemed healthy at birth. But an MRI revealed that a tumor was entwined around the stem of her brain. With no surgical options, the doctors sent Gianna and her family home.
Gianna’s parents, Kristen and Joey Masciantonio, started planning their daughter’s funeral and moved her into hospice. They called their family members every week to say a rosary together, relying on their Catholic faith and the Lord.
Two months after the initial diagnosis, the family received a call from Doctor Dunkel, an oncologist from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. He’d discovered that Gianna’s tumor was behaving in a way he’d never seen before.
A new diagnosis
After a 10 hour craniotomy, three months in the hospital, and numerous other invasive procedures, doctors diagnosed Gianna with Systematic Juvenile Xanthogranuloma. It’s a rare blood disease caused by too many white blood cells called histiocytes. Gianna is one in 10 million children who are affected by JXG. But despite the odds being stacked against them, Gianna and her parents didn’t give up.
A papal kiss
When Pope Francis visited Philadelphia to celebrate the World Meeting of Families Congress, Kristen had a dream that her baby met the Pope. A week after Gianna turned a year old, Kristen’s dream came true. While driving through the streets of Philadelphia, Pope Francis picked Gianna up and kissed her.
“For us, it was a sign from God that he has been with us, carrying us through this journey,” Kristen writes. “Ironically, Gianna’s tumor significantly decreased after her next scan.”
The size of Gianna’s tumor hadn’t changed even with four different treatments. But the family doesn’t just credit Pope Francis. “Never did we say that the kiss healed her. We believe Pope Francis is a living saint, but we believe that God performs miracles,” Kristen continues. “In fact, Gianna’s entire life has been a miracle for us – from her birth, to the papal kiss to her continuing healing.”
Now, miraculously, Gianna is a chatty, curious, and playful three year old. Her healing seems impossible, but Kristen and Joey realize that with God, nothing is impossible.
“She’s doing great. She’s going to attend preschool this fall,” Kristen told a Philadelphia news station.
The Masciantonio family is thankful for their faith, but also for the team of doctors and nurses at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. They returned to the hospital this year to donate $50,000 on behalf of Gianna’s foundation, “For the Love of Grace.”
Doctor Amish Shah is a pediatric neuro-oncologist. He says that Gianna defied the odds by recovering from a brain tumor. “She’s blown our expectations out of the water in terms of how she’s doing. She’s resilient and she’s tough and instead of taking all this as something to be fearful of, she’s really taking this in stride.”