A neurosurgeon who performed life-saving brain surgery on a 10-year-old patient a decade ago said it’s surreal to work alongside her in his lab this summer.

"I had to keep pinching myself to say – is this the child I had operated on 10 years ago?" Dr. James Rutka, a neurosurgeon at the Hospital for Sick Children, told CTV News Toronto.

His former patient and current research student Jessica Rosenbloom arrived in the emergency room of Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children almost 10 years ago, and by chance, Rutka was on a call.

“He took my case on from that point on,” Rosenbloom said, only recently transitioning out of his hands and graduating from SickKids.

At 10, Rosenbloom was diagnosed with a brain tumour approximately the size of a tangerine, located in the pineal region of her brain, a “delicate” location,” according to Rutka.

After a couple weeks of chemotherapy, Rosenbloom was rushed back to the emergency room with what appeared to be a stroke. She was told her tumour – previously characterized as inoperable – would require an operation.

“At the time, I didn’t know the magnitude of what that meant,” she said.

The surgery took four to six hours. "Any ventures in that region have to be taken with the greatest amount of precision," Rutka explained.

That night in the intensive care unit, Rosenbloom started asking questions. “I was always the kid with the questions at the hospital and he would have the answers,” she said about Rutka. “He’s an amazing mentor.”

sickkids"It's hard for me to describe to be honest, what it means to have operated on a child whose brain tumour you have removed in a very critical area of the brain, knowing that surgery took four to six hours and knowing you didn’t know how much you'd remove,” Rutka said.

Over time, Rosenbloom’s questions only mounted and she started chasing answers, pursuing nursing at the University of Ottawa and taking on a summer position in Rutka’s lab studying Glioblastoma, a common and aggressive brain tumour. Ultimately, she aims to research new medical treatments for pediatric patients like herself.

sickkids“I’m still the kid with the questions and I still want to answer them. I need to answer them. I won't settle until I do and I want to spend the rest of my career answering questions,” she said.