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Brain tumor, hydrocephalus
Christian Ward

One day, Christian Ward started to complain of back pain. Then his eyes suddenly became sensitive to light.

“He couldn’t walk 10 feet without complaining about his back,” said Christian’s mother, La Tongna Ward Mitchell. “I took him to the pediatrician and the on-call doctor shrugged it off as growing pains. She checked his eyes, but didn’t think anything was wrong.”

Christian also became nauseated and his eye sensitivity worsened. La Tongna took him back to the pediatrician, and though blood work came back normal, La Tongna knew something was wrong. “I got an eye doctor there to look at him, and he saw that his optic nerves were very swollen,” she said. “At that point, they brought in a neurologist and did an MRI, and that revealed a brain tumor the size of a golf ball.”

Christian was sent to Children’s of Alabama, where they told La Tongna Christian had hydrocephalus, or fluid on the brain. Emergency surgery was done to relieve the pressure. “Dr. James Johnston was so great,” La Tongna said. “He was very reassuring that everything was going to be fine.”

The emergency surgery was indeed a success. More surgeries followed, including one to drill a hole in Christian’s third ventricle to insert an IVD to measure brain pressure, the insertion of a port, and the insertion of a shunt. “That was four surgeries within 13 days that Christian endured,” La Tongna said. “But he handled it great.”

Christian soon started chemotherapy, but after just a few weeks, a scan revealed the tumor had grown. That’s when the family found out it was a fast growing tumor called a non-germinoma germ cell tumor (NGGCT). “It was heartbreaking that it had grown even after chemo,” La Tongna said. “But Dr. Johnston came and talked with us, and said the best course of action at that point was to go in and remove the tumor. So that’s what we did.”

After a nine-hour surgery, Dr. Johnston shared with La Tongna that he was able to remove between 70 to 80 percent of the tumor as it was hard, sticky and rather difficult. “But he reassured me that it was OK and that we just needed to let it sit for a few days and then do a second surgery to try to get the rest of the tumor out,” La Tongna said. “That second surgery went much smoother. He had no problems getting every last little bit of the tumor out.”

After seven surgeries, six rounds of chemo and six weeks of radiation, Christian’s scans and labwork show normal levels, and he is expected to stay in remission. He’s hoping to get back to playing sports—he loves basketball and soccer—and he’s anxious to get back to school and his sixth-grade class.
“He has handled this journey so well,” La Tongna said. “His spirit is what has kept us going. He would comfort us that with each surgery God was going to take care of him and that he was going to be fine. That combined with the support and prayers of family and friends got us through. And, of course, everyone at Children’s – Dr. Johnston, Dr. Jacob Lepard and Dr. Elizabeth Alva, along with all of the other doctors, nurses, and staff, were amazing.”
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