When Alexis Shapiro of Cibolo, Tex. was 9, she was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor called a craniopharyngioma, which affects one out of every million children per year. She received surgery to remove the tumor, but the procedure damaged her hypothalamus and pituitary gland, triggering a condition called hypothalamic obesity which makes her brain think she's always starving.
Despite a strict diet of 900 to 1400 calories per day, Alexis, now 12, now weighs over 200 pounds, having gained 140 pounds in the less than two years since the surgery. (A moderately active girl her age should consume about 2,000 calories a day.) She's developed Type 2 diabetes and other health problems.
Alexis' mom Jennifer wrote, "It has been heartbreaking for her and for us. She can not do the things she used to love."
Doctors say Alexis needs gastric bypass surgery to stop her rampant weight gain, but the Shapiros' insurance has denied coverage. They responded that they cover weight loss surgery only for patients who are at least 18 years old.
The family could appeal the decision, but with Alexis gaining 2 pounds a day and her health deteriorating, they instead turned to the internet for help.
In July, they started an online campaign to help fund the surgery called "Hope for Alexis," and her story took off. When the TODAY video below aired yesterday, the campaign had raised over $53,000. Now, the total sits at $73,000.
With the total sure to rise, the obstacle of Alexis' medical expenses has largely been overcome. But this is just the beginning of her road back to health.
"It's going to be a lot of hard work," Jennifer told TODAY. "We know that it's not going to be 'Have the surgery and, yay, everything's fixed.' But it's a start."
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