Friday night lights and high school football will be starting again soon and Jalen Brown hopes to one day be back on the field. In the spring he wasn’t so sure he’d ever play again. Jalen, a student at Brookland-Cayce High School and a member of the Bearcats football team, was 15 years old when he started having headaches. He took medicine, but the headaches kept coming back.
“It felt like someone was hitting me on the head and inside my head,” remembers Jalen.
On top of this, Jalen was having trouble seeing. He failed a vision test when trying to get his driver’s permit, and at school he had to rely on friends to help him read from papers and the board. Noticing him stumbling on the field one day, Jalen’s coach sent him to the school nurse who promptly contacted his mother. Jalen was in tears because he was in such great pain. He also was nearly blind. At Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital, an MRI revealed the cause: there was a large tumor behind Jalen’s eyes, on his pituitary gland, and it had hemorrhaged.
“It was like a punch in the chest,” recalls Jalen’s mother, Janis Brown. “I mean – he’s always been a healthy child.”
“I’ve heard of it happening to other people,” says Jalen, “but I never thought it would happen to me.”
Stanley Skarli, M.D., a pediatric neurosurgeon with Palmetto Health-USC Medical Group and Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital, knew they had to act fast.
“Had this tumor not bled and had blindness associated with it, we would have considered treating this type of tumor with medication,” says Skarli. “However, because he was going blind, we knew we needed to operate.”
“Holding my hand, Dr. Skarli explained that if they did not perform the surgery immediately, he was scared Jalen’s vision would be affected permanently,” Janis said.
Pituitary tumors are more common in adults than they are in children. When they happen in younger children, usually a craniotomy (an opening of the skull) is necessary to get to the tumor. In Jalen’s case, his sinus was large enough for the doctors to use a minimally-invasive approach to extract the tumor through his nose.
“I wasn’t so scared,” remembers Jalen. “I had my mom with me.”
Jalen had the surgery in May and when he woke up, he was pleased to find that most of his vision had returned. He had to spend a few days in the hospital, but he had the full attention of a staff that was dedicated to helping him get better.
“Mallory, the ICU nurse, treated him like she was his mom,” said Janis. “Her ability to comfort him and help him be less afraid was incredible. When she told him everything was going to be OK, he listened. He fell in love with Mallory.”
Now back home, Jalen’s eyesight continues to improve.
“His vision is close to 20/20,” says Janis Brown. “It’s probably better now than it was when he was 8 or 9 years old.”
Jalen is slowly building up his strength and is attending football practice, though he won’t be able to play until he’s fully mended.
“It’s my senior year, and I really want a scholarship to go to college to learn chemical engineering,” he says. “That is my biggest goal and I’m working hard for that.”
“The conditions that children have are often different from adults, as are the ways these conditions are treated,” Skarli said. “Out of 3,800 neurosurgeons across the United States, there are only about 175 pediatric neurosurgeons who have gone through additional training and certification and have a commitment to pediatric patients. We are proud to have pediatric neurosurgeons at Palmetto Health who are committed to taking care of this community’s children.”
For more information about Pediatric Neurosurgery, visit Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital’s Pediatric Neurosurgery online or call 803-434-7961