CLEVELAND HEIGHTS -- Cervical cancer is a terrifying diagnosis for any woman. Only made worse when the discovery is made - during a pregnancy. It often forced a woman to choose between her health, and the life of her unborn baby.
Now there's an alternative. Cervical cancer affects about 10,000 women a year. Nearly 4,000 will die from it. It's a disease that usually strikes older women, not those in the prime of childbearing years.
At 29, Katie Balogh couldn't wait to become a mother. So she was thrilled when she learned she was pregnant. She sailed through the first three months, but then a routine pap smear came back abnormal. More tests followed and the outcome wasn't good.
"It did come back as cancerous. And at that point we were given some choices," Katie says choking back tears.
It's still so painful to talk about -- Katie and her husband had to decide whether to terminate the pregnancy and begin treatment right away. Katie could continue with the pregnancy -- and do nothing until after the baby was born. But the cancer would continue to spread in her body.
And then the doctor gave her a third option.
"Continuing with the pregnancy, and having surgery done to remove part of the cervix to have a stitch put in to hold the uterus in," Katie says.
It's a surgery that's not uncommon in women -- but extremely rare on a pregnant woman.
Katie's doctor, Gynecological Oncologist Steven Waggoner knew it was possible but he'd never performed it before. Katie would be his first.
"Traditionally we've removed the entire uterus with the cervix but recent studies have shown that by doing a more limited operation and preserving the uterus can give very good outcomes," Dr. Waggoner says.
"It really was just kind of a shot in the dark but I knew that he would do everything in his power to save my baby and cure me," Katie remembers.
At four months pregnant, Katie checked into University Hospitals and went into surgery, not knowing if she -- or her baby -- would survive. She knew the risks were great.
"Once we were on the table if I were to start hemorrhaging we would lose the baby and have to have a hysterectomy," Katie says.
Doctor Wagoner was determined not to let that happen.
"This surgery, also necessitated placement of a special stitch or a support into the uterus to replace what the cervix normally does," Dr. Waggoner says.
Katie came through the surgery, but was not out of the woods. She had to wait -- and pray -- that the stitch would hold.
Each passing week, brought a tiny bit of relief.
"I think it wasn't until 26 weeks or 27 weeks that we were finally able to embrace the pregnancy as something that is happening and we're gonna have this baby and she's gonna be fine," Katie recalls.
And "she" was fine. Baby Samantha was born just a few weeks early in December, via C-section.
"When they told me that she was fine, it was just, it was a miracle," Katie says.
A miracle made possible by a doctor who believed in Katie's dream -- and the little girl who would make it come true.
Meanwhile, Katie's outlook is good. Her cancer is gone and thanks to this type of surgery, she still has the ability to have more children.