Caleb was just hours away from surgery to remove his brain tumor when his condition took a scary turn. His head throbbed with intense pain and he was losing consciousness.
The then-8-year-old’s parents, Tammie and Greg, say they’ll never forget running alongside Caleb’s gurney to the operating room. Their son needed surgery right away to relieve pressure on his brain due to a lemon-sized tumor.
Dr. Amanda Saratsis is an Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago neurosurgeon, brain tumor researcher and assistant professor of neurological surgery, biochemistry and molecular genetics at Northwestern Feinberg University School of Medicine. Just before entering the operating suite to take care of Caleb, Dr. Saratsis approached his parents, hugged them and asked them to trust her, Tammie said.
“She said, ‘you have to let him go with me. This is how I can save him,’” Tammie recalls. “She was like an angel and the perfect doctor for this situation; so we said yes and then they took him to surgery.”
A Heart-shattering Diagnosis
Just months earlier, Caleb had been an active kid who loved sports, video games and gobbling pizza. He’d started having occasional headaches and sometimes nausea, but there was no fever, and he would perk up hours later. When his parents took him to the pediatrician’s office, Caleb showed no symptoms, so allergies were thought to be the cause.
But when Caleb had a severe headache and felt dizzy two days in a row along with vomiting, his parents, then living in suburban Chicago, decided to pursue further testing. Caleb had an MRI scan at a suburban Chicago hospital, revealing the heart-shattering diagnosis: a large tumor in his brain.
It was days later that his parents found themselves at Lurie Children’s, waiting for Dr. Saratsis and her team to give them news about the emergency surgery. Dr. Saratsis performed surgery to relieve pressure on the brain that was causing Caleb to lose consciousness and then removed the tumor.
Tammie and Greg will never forget the happy hugging and sobbing that occurred when Dr. Saratsis told them she had removed the entire tumor successfully.
“It was the worst possible day of our lives and the best possible day all in one,” said Tammie.
Hours later, their son, while having some pain from the surgery incision, was awake and chatting with his family, Tammie said. And more sunny news came days later when the family discovered the tumor was benign and Caleb would not need further treatment.
Healing & Advocating
It has been almost two years since Caleb’s surgery. Now ten, Caleb delights his parents as he learns the rules of basketball, snowboards and excels in his fourth grade classroom. He especially loves French class.
The family now lives in Philadelphia, where Tammie works as a TV meteorologist. She shared her story in a three-part series that aired in 2017, just months after Caleb’s life-saving surgery. Caleb returns to Chicago and Lurie Children’s twice a year for checkups, which are usually a joyful time for the family, reuniting with their favorite nurses and, of course, Dr. Saratsis.
Tammie, who when she was seven lost a five-year-old sister to a brain tumor, now participates in events and advocates for more research for pediatric brain tumors. She tells other parents to be their children’s best advocate and to not be afraid to ask doctors many questions or ask for scans or testing.
Tammie also reflects about the “world-class care” she found available at Lurie Children’s.
“We would not have wanted to be anywhere else for this time in our lives,” she said.