Feb. 12, 2008 | When Tonya Wright of Jonesboro discovered she was pregnant, she did as all expectant mothers do: hoped for a normal pregnancy. What she got was anything but.
Early in her pregnancy, Tonya began to experience a tingling sensation in her lip. When her face started to swell, she saw a physician who referred her to a dentist. From there she was sent to an oral surgeon where a biopsy was performed, with shocking results.
“Tonya told me that she had been diagnosed with cancer of the jawbone,” said Tonya’s husband, Joey. “I was in shock.” About halfway through her pregnancy at this point, the Wrights’ lives immediately became a whirlwind of decisions. Fortunately for them, Tonya’s Jonesboro physician was familiar with James Y. Suen, M.D., chairman of the Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS).
After reviewing her case, Suen recommended that the couple come to UAMS, where Tonya could not only have her cancer treated but also deliver her baby. UAMS is home to the state’s only maternal-fetal medicine specialists trained to handle high-risk pregnancies.
The Wrights left their 7-year-old daughter in the care of relatives and arrived in Little Rock on Dec. 27. Their baby, Josey, was born four days later. Because she was eight weeks premature, Josey spent the first weeks of her life in the UAMS neonatal intensive care (NICU) unit while Tonya prepared for Suen to remove her tumor Jan. 15. Immediately following the surgery by Suen, her jaw was reconstructed by UAMS surgeon James Yuen, M.D. The two surgeries took a total of about 11 hours.
Because they had nowhere to stay between Josey’s birth and Tonya’s surgery, Suen referred them to the UAMS Family Home, a facility that provides safe, affordable and comfortable housing for patients of UAMS’ Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute and parents who have an infant in the NICU. The Wrights fit both bills.
It just so happened that when they arrived at the Family Home, they were recognized as the 1000th family to stay there since its opening in 2003. “I don’t know what we would have done without the Family Home,” Joey said. “I don’t know where we would have gone. Here I can take care of Tonya, and we’re close to Josey too.”
After a successful surgery, Tonya and Joey returned to Jonesboro, where they are busy caring for their newborn.
Located across from the UAMS campus on Markham Street, the Family Home operates as a private, nonprofit organization and charges only $10 per night to residents, some of whom stay weeks or months at a time while undergoing treatment. The home provides a kitchen, laundry facilities, private rooms, a library and a large family room. It also is home to the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute Auxiliary Cancer Support Center.