PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — It was happenstance that Pope Francis, just blocks from Independence Hall, stopped his motorcade to kiss little Gianna Masciantonio on her head. Little did he know that now-famous kiss was just centimeters from a brain tumor she’s fought since birth.
“I fell to my knees and I cried,” Kristen Masciantonio told Eyewitness News in September.
The Masciantonio family met with Eyewitness News again in November, after they learned her tumor was barely visible on her latest MRI scan.
“Gianna continues to make progress and we’re just trying to maintain a normal life,” Joey Masciantonio told Eyewitness News this week.
Joey and Kristen Masciantonio will take Gianna for another MRI the first week in February and they are feeling optimistic.
“Hopefully we’ll continue to see more progress. There are no magic bullets when you’re going through this kind of stuff. As long as you’re going forward and it’s slow steady progress,” Joey Masciantonio said.
Gianna’s brain tumor isn’t a typical brain tumor. She suffers from Histiocytosis, a blood disorder that typically causes lesions on the skin. Gianna suffers from Histiocytosis not only her brain, but on the brain stem. That makes surgery impossible.
Dr. Amish Shah, Gianna’s doctor at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, says she is one of about 40 people ever recorded to have this specific condition. Right now, her treatment is chemotherapy once a month.
“I always see her with a smile on her face and playing with her parents. Just a very loving child,” Shah said.
The family almost didn’t go see Pope Francis, worrying that Gianna might get sick. They called Dr. Shah who gave them the go ahead.
“I don’t think any of us realized that this would be the outcome,” Shah said with a smile.
The outcome played on television screens across the globe, following the kiss.
“I think Pope Francis is a living saint and to us he gave us a sign that God has been with us through this entire journey,” Kristen Masciantonio said.
The Mascianatonio family hopes to do something positive for other families. They set up a new foundation in Gianna’s name. Her middle name is Grace, and “For the Love of Grace” Foundation is a nonprofit, aimed at raising awareness for Histiocytosis and brain tumors.
“Everyone says, you know, she’s blessed to have us, but I think we’re blessed to have her,” Joey Masciantonio said.
Gianna is now starting to talk. Her vocal cord is working again, and she can now hear.
For more information on the foundation, visit the official Facebook page by clicking here.