The definition of endure is to remain firm under suffering or misfortune without yielding. Another definition of endure is Eli.
“Eli amazes me,” said Samantha, Eli’s mom. “He has been so strong and brave.”
“Eli is resilient,” said Jason, Eli’s dad. “He handled it better than any of us.”
It was a typical day, as seven-year-old Eli and his parents prepared for youth baseball. But Eli opted to stay home—he wasn’t feeling well. His condition worsened and he experienced vomiting, neck pain and headaches. Following a visit to the emergency room and a consultation with the pediatrician, a CT scan confirmed their worst fear—a brain tumor.
Eli had immediate surgery to remove the softball-sized tumor. The tumor was believed to be slow-growing and not life-threatening—a one-time surgery and physical therapy. But three months later…it was back. And the outcome was bleak. Doctors believed the second surgery would be life-altering and difficult to make a full recovery.
Jason and Samantha pursued a second opinion from Mayo Clinic. The pediatric neurologist and oncologist needed the results from his biopsy to verify the type of brain tumor—because it is so incredibly rare.
Eli was diagnosed with a grade II atypical meningioma. The reason it is rare is because meningioma typically develops in adult women who are 50 years old or older and it is benign. Eli is a seven-year-old male and grade II is neither benign, nor malignant—it’s both. It has characteristics of both cells and can act both ways. It’s unpredictable.
And while it would require a second surgery, the neurosurgeon at Mayo Clinic was more optimistic about its outcome. As an expert in the field and one of the first to publish an academic paper on the specific condition, he was the man for the job.
“The neurosurgeon confirmed it would require another surgery, but the outcome sounded for more positive,” Samantha said. “The road ahead was long and hard and filled with obstacles; Mayo altered our path.”
“The neurosurgeon is a miracle worker,” Jason said. “Eli was moving his limbs hours after surgery—hours after his brain was worked on. It was like nothing had changed.
“It was a miracle.”
And after the miracle surgery was performed by the neurosurgeon, Eli began proton beam radiation therapy. There are only 27 proton beam therapy centers in the United States and two are Mayo Clinic facilities—Rochester and Phoenix, Ariz.
As described by Samantha and Jason, typical radiation goes all the way through an area, regardless of vital organs, and radiates an entire, larger area. Proton beam radiation is specialized because the radiation is more precise. Doctors are able to control where the radiation goes and how far it goes, minimizing the effect on surrounding areas. The intensity can be increased or decreased more easily as well.
It’s a lot less devastating in terms of development.
“Eli has very few side effects,” said Jason. “It’s like nothing changed. When you think about the tumor size and type…it’s amazing.
“The oncology, radiation, surgery—Mayo Clinic is top-notch, professional…perfect.”
In 2018, 26 families stayed at the Ronald McDonald House of Rochester, Minnesota for proton beam radiation therapy. Family stays for proton beam radiation often exceed the average stay, which was 22 nights in 2018.
Eli and his parents stayed at the House for 56 nights.
“We weren’t familiar with the Ronald McDonald House,” Samantha said. “You see it from the outside, but it’s not until you walk through the front doors that you realize everything the House has to offer. It’s such a special place.”
But when Eli and his parents arrived in Rochester and called the House…28 families were on the waiting list. It was 10 days before a room opened up.
And for the next two months it was home.
“It was wonderful for Eli to be with other kids,” said Samantha. “He needed that interaction. And he made so many friends.”
“It’s not a normal situation, but in difficult moments, the House was home, his friends were family,” said Jason. “A rough day ends with happy memories.
“It’s therapy for parents as well. It’s good for all.”
Jason and Samantha also recognized the volunteers and staff, who “fill the House with love and will do anything for you.”
“It’s emotional,” Jason said. “The people here truly care and the volunteers are the cream of the crop. They give their time and energy to children and families who need it most.
And now…more families will experience the love. The Ronald McDonald House expansion—which increased the number of guest rooms from 42 to 70 and added multiple community spaces—celebrated its grand opening the week of May 13.
“It’s so important,” Samantha said. “Traveling and staying for medical care is a major expense. The House makes a difference for families financially and is so much more than a room. It’s a community. And some families miss out on it.”
“It means more love will spread to more people,” Jason said.
Eli still faces challenges as he recovers from surgery, but all signs are pointing up. He will return for follow-up appointments and tests, but the family has one goal: return to normalcy, as much as possible.
And thanks to Mayo Clinic, the Ronald McDonald House and the Rochester community, it’s more than possible—it’s probable.
“The House served us so well,” said Jason. “It’s a hard spot in life, but it was not as much of a struggle because of the House. It’s something I will never forget.”