Danny was a strong, athletic child nearing his 12th birthday when he began having intense headaches, but never so debilitating that he had to give up his traveling baseball team or his place on the basketball team. He continued to go to school, enjoying sixth grade and making new friends in middle school.
We assumed that the headaches were nothing more than sinus headaches. In January, 1999, the orthodontist noticed that Danny couldn't open his mouth as wide on the right side. He suggested that we visit the pediatrician, who referred us to a local neurologist - thinking that Danny had a common neurological disorder called Bell's palsy. Who could have imagined what would appear on the routine MRI — a large tumor originating inside the brainstem and extending beyond into a ventricle, thus causing the headaches and facial paralysis. Our active, healthy boy had a brain tumor? Nothing in life ever prepares a parent to hear such a diagnosis, and we were devastated. But faith in God and confidence in the doctors at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta gave us much hope, and we prepared to deal with the greatest crisis of our lives — the fight to save our son.
Danny underwent surgery on a cold, rainy Wednesday morning in January, the week after the Super Bowl. Drs. Bill Boydston and Roger Hudgens worked in tandem for the five-hour operation. My husband Doug and I waited anxiously — but we knew that Danny was in the best of hands. I'll never forget Dr. Boydston's words the first time we met him, "I will take care of your boy." And he did. Danny came through the surgery beautifully, and although part of the tumor was inoperable, most of it was safely removed. The lab reported that the tumor was very low grade, unlikely to regrow. Danny was back home after four days, and he returned to school. He dreamed of playing baseball again, so we promised to get him back on the team as soon as possible. Unfortunately, a follow-up MRI three months later showed that the tumor had indeed regrown, almost as large as before. Once again, Dr. Boydston worked his magic, removing as much of the tumor as he safely could. And Danny went home after only two days this time. Dr. Claire Mazewski took over his care at that point, prescribing radiation therapy to stop the tumor growth. Danny continued to go to school, having the radiation treatments each morning and then attending classes in the afternoon. He lost weight and was sometimes sickly, but his spirit and determination were strong. He was going to beat this disease and reclaim his carefree childhood.
Danny did return to the game of baseball, joining his travel team in Cooperstown, NY, for a youth tournament in July. He managed to hit the ball into right field, scoring two runs in one game – and catching a high fly ball over his head in another game. He had proven to himself that he could overcome terrible odds — and we now refer to that time as our "Miracle Summer of 1999."
Today Danny is a healthy, robust 16-year-old, a high school junior who has a part-time job at a golf course and is learning to drive a car. He lives every day with what remains of his tumor, but it has been stable for four years now. He has regular MRIs and visits with his team of doctors at the clinic; they are his friends in every sense of the word. We treasure every day that begins and ends with Danny's smile — and we know that God has truly blessed us.
A Survivor's Story
by Mary Waite