By Dr. Maria Simbra

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — When a local woman got a cancer so rare that fewer than 100 people in the entire world are diagnosed with it, she feared the worst, but what’s happened to her since has been pretty miraculous.

School bus driver Kim Bonifield thought she had food poisoning.

“Really, really doubled over pain, upset stomach,” she describes.

But it was far worse and life threatening.

She had clots and dead tissue, called infarcts, in multiple organs — and the reason was not clear.

“Whenever you have multiple infarcts like that, you think, wait, it’s coming from somewhere,” says Allegheny General Hospital blood and cancer specialist Dr. Prerna Mewawalla.

After three weeks in the hospital of test after test, the doctors finally found the problem — it looked like a tumor in the left ventricle of Kim’s heart. It was throwing off bits of itself into her bloodstream.

“This was the first time I ever had a cardiac anything, because I was healthy,” Kim says.

This is a rare finding.

“There are only 100 cases reported, less than 100 cases, reported worldwide,” says Dr. Mewawalla.

Her doctors conferred with each other and other specialists to put together a plan.

Kim had open heart surgery to remove the tumor and to get a conclusive diagnosis.

“And he said he got the whole mass out, which was larger than a golf ball,” Kim says of her surgeon and her tumor.

It was cancer, and just a few weeks later, it grew back. And then she developed heart rhythm troubles, left arm weakness and an MRSA infection.

“I honestly thought my days were numbered at that point,” Kin admits, “and I was going to leave a 6-month-old granddaughter, and twin boys, and [my husband]. And I just wasn’t ready.”

Her doctors weren’t as discouraged. They expected the cancer type, a primary cardiac lymphoma, to respond to chemotherapy.

Because the lymphoma was an aggressive subtype, Kim started the aggressive cycle of five chemotherapy medicines immediately.

“Most people with primary cardiac lymphoma either respond or they don’t. And the prognosis has been pretty dismal. The average survival, if you just look at the cases that are out there, is like less than seven months,” Dr. Mewawalla says. “The fact that she’s made it out of that time period, I think she should do well.”

The treatment has been working. Kim was able to attend her son’s wedding. She’s back to driving her school bus.

“Right before Thanksgiving, I got the PET scan results and it said no signs of cancer at all. No malignancy,” says Kim. “We were all jumping for joy.”

“It just gives you a feeling of satisfaction to see that it’s turned out so well,” says Dr. Mewawalla.

Kim has another PET scan coming up. She is optimistic.

“That’s the new one this year,” she says of her new Christmas ornament. “I’m just happy to be here to put it on the tree.”