In 2015 The Pope Kissed This Ill Baby’s Head, And Two Months Later Her Brain Tumor Had Shrunk

Image: YouTube/Inside Edition

It was a serendipitous moment for the Masciantonio family – the devout Catholics had finally gotten a chance to see the Pope. Not only that, but the head of the church had held their critically ill daughter, Gianna, kissed her head and changed her life.

When Joey and Kristen Masciantonio welcomed their daughter, Gianna, she appeared to be a perfectly healthy baby. But a health crisis lingered – the newborn was diagnosed with a brain stem tumor at four weeks old.

In fact, her condition was so dire that doctors told the Masciantonios that they didn’t know how the baby had even lived through the entire pregnancy. Her brain stem tumor wasn’t a cancerous one but the result of a blood disorder – juvenile xanthogranuloma.

ADVERTISEMENT

Juvenile xanthogranula, also known as JXG, typically appears in children under a year old. The skin disorder causes benign tumors to grow on the head and neck. But Gianna’s JXG had manifested in a completely different place – inside of her brain stem.

What’s more, the tumor was launching an assault on the newborn’s central nervous system. Doctors told Gianna’s parents to prepare for her final days, so they checked their baby girl into hospice care and planned her funeral.

ADVERTISEMENT

But Gianna wouldn’t give up without a fight. She reached 15 months of age after receiving chemotherapy treatments and surgeries to shrink and remove her tumors. Still, doctors had little hope that they could fully heal the little girl.

ADVERTISEMENT

Devoid of any other option, Gianna’s mom Kristen spent much of her time praying on her rosary. In fact, she and her husband also hoped that by some miracle, the Pope himself would be able to bless their daughter.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Clem Murray – Pool/Getty Images

As luck would have it, the pontiff eventually came to visit Philadelphia, which was within driving distance for the Masciantonios. At first, though, they didn’t think they would have their chance to present Gianna to Pope Francis – until they received a phone call the morning of his visit to Philadelphia in 2015.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Andrew Burton/Getty Images

A friend of the Masciantonios and FBI agent, Donny Asper had received an assignment to protect the Pope as he wove his way through Philadelphia. He told Kristen and Joey to come downtown for the procession.

ADVERTISEMENT

The family was, of course, miles away from the location of the parade and unprepared to trek all the way to the center of Philadelphia. Joey later admitted that he partly hoped doctors wouldn’t allow Gianna to spend the afternoon wading through the hundreds of thousands gathered to see the Pope.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: YouTube/Inside Edition

Instead, Gianna’s medical team encouraged the trip. The family noted that the normally congested hour-long drive took just over a half-hour. Once they arrived, they found a parking spot right away – a rarity, as any city dweller would know.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Carl Court/Getty Images

But the luckiest moment came when the Pope finally made his way down the street where Joey was hoisting Gianna into the air. As the Masciantonios shouted, “Papa!” in an attempt to grab the pontiff’s attention, Joey recalled to Aleteia that the pontiff made eye contact and “actually smirked.”

ADVERTISEMENT

The Pope’s head of security, Domenico Gianni, saw the baby held high in the air. He brought her forward so the religious figure could reach her. Then Pope Francis leaned forward and kissed the child on her head.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: YouTube/Inside Edition

The once-in-a-lifetime experience wasn’t lost on her parents. “It was the luck of the draw. We believe it was definitely a divine moment,” Joey told NBC News. In spite of their excitement, Gianna still had an uphill battle in her fight against JXG.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: YouTube/Inside Edition

After receiving the Pope’s blessing, she underwent two more chemotherapy sessions. Then her doctors scheduled an MRI to see how the treatment had worked, if it had done anything at all.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: YouTube/Inside Edition

What they found defied all expectations. “The tumor was basically just a blush on the screen. It was virtually invisible,” Joey recalled. The shrunken growth proved to doctors that Gianna’s prognosis had completely changed too.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: YouTube/Inside Edition

At one point, they had given Gianna weeks to live. But on the day of her MRI, doctors told the Masciantonios that their daughter would probably survive. Her parents had only one explanation for her quick turnaround.

ADVERTISEMENT

Although they recognized the rarity of Gianna’s meeting with the Pope, they attributed her improved health to the medical care she received. That, they said, was the most divine work of all.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: YouTube/Inside Edition

“The kiss was God’s work, that’s for sure. But the miracle was him giving us the platform to reach those doctors who, ultimately, played a major role in saving Gianna’s life,” her father Joey said. Kristen agreed, telling Aleteia, “Pope Francis kissing her is God’s way of showing he has been with us through this journey and is listening to our prayers.”

ADVERTISEMENT

In 2017 the Masciantonios celebrated Gianna’s second birthday, against all the odds. At that time, her bill of health was better, but not completely clear – she still had an eye surgery on her calendar. “It’s not always easy,” Kristen said, but noted that the family would continue to rely on the faith that had already gotten them so far.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT