Doctors at Children's Hospital remove a cyst, and pain, from a young dancer

By John Kelly
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 7, 2010; 3:44 PM

A dancer's life is not always an easy one. It takes a lot of effort to make things look effortless. Feet are pounded, muscles stretched, bones jarred. Aches and pains come with the territory.

But the pain that 14-year-old Caroline Omland first felt in September was far from routine. An ache on the left side of her abdomen worsened over the fall. It came and went, but when it was at its height, it left the South Riding teen almost doubled over.

"It wasn't like any pain I've ever had before," Caroline said. "It was like a cramp but a zillion times worse that wouldn't go away."

Caroline toughed it out at first, not wanting to miss practice with her Irish stepdancing team, the Aoibhneas an Rince Dancers. (Pronounced "evenish on rica," it's Gaelic for "joy of dance.") It became clear, however, that this was more than just routine cramps, more than a pulled muscle. Caroline's mom, Leanne, took her to the pediatrician. An ultrasound was ordered and the cause was revealed: There was a cyst growing inside Caroline.

A cyst is a pocket of fluid with something surrounding it to hold it in place, explained Dr. Veronica Gomez-Lobo, the pediatric gynecologist who saw Caroline at Children's National Medical Center. The cyst was benign but big - about the size of a plum - and it had wrapped itself around one of Caroline's ovaries.

A cyst such as the one inside Caroline can cause a young girl to lose her ovary, so surgery was called for. Caroline could have waited a few weeks - the cyst wasn't life-threatening - but there was something coming up that she had spent months training for: a big Irish dance competition. The doctors at Children's understood how important it was to Caroline.

"They knew this was make or break to continue with her team," mom Leanne said. "The surgeon said if we do it sooner rather than later, she could be back dancing in about three days if she wanted to."

Caroline's name was added to the surgical schedule for 5:30 p.m. that very day. Dr. Gomez-Lobo and Dr. Lauren Damle made two small incisions in Caroline's abdomen and, aided by a laproscope, removed the cyst. It had caused Caroline's ovary to twist and split in two, but the doctors left the reproductive organ in place.

"The biggest message I like to get out there is that ovaries should not be taken out," said Dr. Gomez-Lobo. "They should be untwisted, even if they look like they're almost dead." She expects the traumatized ovary to come back just fine.

Pediatric gynecology is a relatively new specialty, combining two things that don't often go together.

"It's a little bit of an orphan area," said Dr. Gomez-Lobo, who splits her time with Washington Hospital Center. "Pediatricians didn't feel comfortable with that part of the body, and gynecologists didn't feel comfortable with children. . . . I think we're really bridging that gap now."

Caroline missed just a week of practice, then was back with her teammates to prepare for last weekend's big competition at the Gaylord National. Hundreds of girls swarmed the hotel complex, ballrooms echoing with the percussive sound of their dancing. Caroline's four-girl team danced the four-hand reel in the under-15 category. Though the girls didn't finish among the medalists, it was the best performance the team had ever given.

"We did really well," Caroline said. "I love dancing."

Dance dance resolution

Keeping kids dancing is what Children's National Medical Center is all about. And what I'm all about today is asking you to donate to the hospital's uncompensated care fund, which helps ensure that all kids can get the same sort of treatment Caroline did, no matter their family's financial situation.

To make your tax-deductible contribution, send a check or money order (payable to "Children's Hospital") to Washington Post Campaign, P.O. Box 17390, Baltimore, Md. 21297-1390. To donate online with a credit card, go to or call 301-565-8501.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company