Joe and Jennifer McGillis’s joy was unparalleled when they welcomed their daughter, Sloan, to the world in 2015.
Yet when little Sloan was born, her parents were shocked to see a large tumor growing on her face. It hadn’t shown up on any of the ultrasounds but left Sloan requiring urgent care.
Since the tumor took up half her face, Sloan was forced to undergo thirteen surgeries to remove it.
Thankfully, she made it out alive, and today she’s just like any other happy girl. This is her incredible story, including pictures of how she looks today.
Few things – if anything – are more joyful than becoming a parent. The sheer ecstasy of welcoming a baby to the world simply can’t be described to anyone who hasn’t experienced it.
Sadly, for some, said happiness can turn into unrivaled fear in just a few short seconds.
Sloan McGillis – born with a giant facial tumor
That was certainly the case for Joe and Jennifer McGillis. The couple welcomed their daughter, Sloan, on February 25, 2015. Yet immediately after her birth, the new parents recognized that she had a growth on her face.
On her third day of life, Sloan was transferred to the hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. It turned out that the growth was a tumor. Luckily, it was non-cancerous, but doctors remained very concerned.
Joe and Jennifer, meanwhile, were left reeling in shock.
“They handed her to me,” Jennifer told Inside Edition, recalling the first moment she saw Sloan with the tumor. “I went into shock at that point.”
“I had about a minute of panic terror,” Joe added.
Fortunately, the medical professional in charge, Dr. Hardy, was extraordinary. He became an essential part of Sloan’s life for a long time.
“He walked into Sloan’s hospital room when she was just born, looked at her & said, “That is a hemangioma & she will be just fine. Your daughter is going to be ok.” And for the 1st time in 48 hours, I think I was able to breathe again,” Jennifer wrote on Facebook.
As per the Cleveland Clinic, hemangioma is a type of growth that appear as red or purple lumps on the skin. They’re made of rapidly dividing cells of blood vessel walls. It’s a type of birthmark that can be present in babies at birth, as in Sloan’s case. While hemangioma is a tumor, it’s non-cancerous, isn’t life-threatening, and doesn’t spread to other body parts.
The growths themselves can be removed without the risk of reoccurring after surgery. Even so, complications can occur, including sores that lead to pain, scarring, or infection.
Had her first surgery at eight months old
“When she was born, it was hard as a rock, Jennifer told the Billings Gazette. “It was like having a grapefruit under your skin.”
Depending on where a hemangioma is situated, it may interfere with a child’s vision, breathing, or hearing. In Sloan McGillis’ case, it took up most of her left cheek, and one of the worries was that it might affect the muscles on the left side of her lips.
She couldn’t fully close her mouth and had to wear a bib all day to catch the drool.
“She just doesn’t seem to know it’s there, she’s grown up with it,” Jennifer explained. “We’ve done nothing to treat it as a visibility.”
Doctors at the hospital suggested that Sloan’s parents wait to see if the tumor shrank over time. At the time, Joe and Jennifer were worried about the reaction Sloan would face at school if the tumor wasn’t removed.
“The world is cruel sometimes,” Joe said.
“Sometimes adults are worse about it than other children,” Jennifer added. “Many parents of children with hemangioma are accused of child abuse.”
When Sloan McGillis was eight months old, the decision was taken for her to have surgery. Her parents met with specialists around the US and soon began working with Dr. Milton Waner at the Vascular Birthmark Institute of New York. He is seen as one of the world’s foremost experts in vascular anomalies.
On January 6, 2016, Sloan was prepped for the procedure.
On Sloan’s Facebook page, Jennifer wrote about the very emotional day her daughter went under the knife.
“I prayed that was not the last time I held her“
“They had a plan, but we knew we couldn’t expect the entire tumor to be gone & you can never mentally prepare yourself to see your baby cut all over their face with hundreds of sutures & tubes coming out of them. I look back on this 1st experience & my stomach goes in knots just thinking about the moment I held her in the operating room with the mask over her face & watched her eyes roll back in her head,” Jennifer wrote.
“At that moment, as I think most parents would have a wave of fear come over them, I prayed that was not the last time I held her. The surgery itself is scary enough but to have to make the decision to have it done on your infant is gut-wrenching. Were we doing the right thing? Was it too much for her little body? Will the pain be too much for her & she can’t tell us. “
The procedure involved making incisions below Sloan’s eye and along the side of her nose and mouth to open her cheek up. The doctors were able to remove 90 percent of the tumor.
One week later, during a follow-up appointment, Dr. Waner burned some of the blood vessels below her skin using laser treatment, helping her normal skin color to return.
But Joe and Jennifer McGillis had one big problem despite the wildly successful procedure. It turned out that the hospital, Lenox Hill, in New York, wouldn’t accept Sloan’s Montana Medicaid insurance, meaning that her daughter’s surgeries would cost a fortune.
Joe and Jennifer took to the internet to try and get help in raising the funds.
A bank in Missoula set up a medical fund in Sloan’s name, and an online fundraising effort brought in more than $30,000.
Slone McGillis’ family was given more than $100 000 for medical costs
Three months before the first surgery, Joe and Jennifer got word that the Hannah Storm Foundation had raised enough money to cover all of Sloan’s surgeries and hospital stay in New York. Their local Missouri community supported them massively, and the support was overwhelming for the parents.
In total, the family was able to raise more than $100,000.
“Everything we were worried about just fell away,” Jennifer told Missoulian. “We didn’t have to worry about how to pay for all of this.”
Joe added: “They aren’t donating to us, they are donating to her, and it was tough to wrap our heads around that for a while. Sloan’s changed us, she’s made us stronger and made us better people.”
Over the next year, Sloan underwent nine more procedures, the tenth of which helped remove the scars from her face. The world has been able to follow Sloan’s journey through her Facebook page, Sloan’s Story, and over the years, they have been given some special treats.
The family met ESPN anchor Hannah Storm – the founder of the Hannah Storm Foundation – who donated money to Sloan.
“I was born with a port wine birthmark stain on my face. Without makeup, even to this day [it] looks like a black eye,” Storm told Inside Edition.
Jennifer called her daughter a “miracle” and was happy that Sloan “has a chance at a better life.”
This is Sloan McGillis today
Sloan’s inspirational story spread nationwide, and hundreds of people wrote positive comments on their Facebook page. She also received assistance from the Jadyn Fred Foundation, where she was given a pony to add joy to her life during a difficult time.
The years passed, and Sloan grew up, got a dog, and made many friends. Today, the little girl has just turned eight – and she’s living her best life.
She has almost 5,000 followers on her Facebook and is learning how to play golf and baseball.
“I didn’t know that my little girl was half as brave as she has proven herself to be,” her mother, Jennifer, wrote on Facebook in January 2020.
“She has taken us places we never expected. She loves so hard & she is so smart, funny, & sensitive, but also stubborn & determined too. I always tell people that there was a reason this was given to Sloan & it’s because she is the one tough enough to go through it all. To all that have followed on this journey with us, THANK YOU! I’ve said it before & I’ll say it again…. your prayers touched us, gave us hope & got us through days like this one 4 years ago. To Sloan, I love you, Noanie, you’re nothing short of amazing & don’t ever forget that.”
As mentioned, Dr. Hardy was crucial to Sloan and her shot at a normal life.
Praised Dr. Hardy
In May 2021, her family attended their last check-up meeting at his office – by all accounts, he’s become like an extra family member. In an emotional post, Jennifer described him as “patient, kind, and generous.”
“It’s difficult for me as a mom to put into words the gratitude I have for him. He will never truly know what he has done for Sloan, myself & my family,” Jeniffer McGillis wrote. “Thank you for doing things for my daughter that we, as her parents could not. Thank you for our monthly visits that I’m certain I looked forward to much more than Sloan; I truly think of you as a friend now.”
Despite removing the tumor, Sloan has been left with some issues. Her family was forced to once again return to Dr. Hardy, who was concerned that her tumor had produced proteins that made her orbital bone grow thicker in her cheek & eye socket.
Based on the latest picture, posted on April 27, 2023, Sloan is truly happy and busy enjoying life as any child should.
Sloan McGillis’ story is truly incredible. We are so happy that she is doing well, and also that these amazing doctors were able to help her.
Please, share this story on Facebook with friends and family to share Sloan’s story – and to honor the amazing medical staff; they are real heroes!