It all started as a headache.
In May 2012, Gage Gregonis was leading the life of any healthy seven-year-old boy. Like most resilient kids, he was hard at play one day and became sick the next with little warning between the two.
After a missed day of school, Susan Gregonis took her grandson, who was rarely sick, to Urgent Care. He returned to school, but continued to feel under the weather throughout the week. Sunday night, Gage began to have pain in and around his eyes. The next morning, Susan took him to theER at Shannon. Thankfully, Susan did not wait any longer to seek immediate medical attention. Within the next two hours her grandson slipped into a coma.
"When Gage presented to the ER he was able to give his own medical history and tell us about his headaches," says Luis Duarte, MD, Shannon neurosurgeon. "We ordered a MRI and CT scan to figure out what was going on."
During the tests, Gage fell into a coma. He had developed bleeding and swelling around a very large brain tumor that had gone unrecognized until that point. The emergency team performed an intubation, to make sure his respiratory system was supported, and noticed one of his pupils was dilated.
"The dilated pupil indicates severe pressure in the brain which kinks one of the nerves leading to the eyeball," Dr. Duarte says. "This is a very critical situation."
The MRI revealed a tumor the size of an orange in the right frontal area of Gage's brain.
"I expected it to be an ear or sinus infection or even a migraine," Susan says. "I never thought about the possibility of a tumor. It was just not in our thoughts at all when we went to the emergency room. Gage had always been healthy. We were blown away."
Realizing there was no time to spare, Gage was rushed to surgery where Dr. Duarte and his team removed the tumor.
"If he had not had surgery within those couple of hours, he would have died," he says. "His condition was that critical. Kids can compensate easily. The brain continues to adjust to the presence of the tumor until the point where any little change causes them to decompensate and that's what happened with Gage. He was doing fine, just complained of a headache, gave us his history and then within 30 minutes he was in a coma on the threshold between living and dying. I thought that if we could get him to surgery very quickly, relieve the pressure on the brain and remove as much of the tumor as possible, then he would have a chance to recover. However, there was a chance, because he was already in a coma, that even with a successful surgery he could remain comatose."
Luckily, Gage had other plans for his recovery.
"Almost everything before I dropped into the coma is a blur," he says. "But, the first thing I remember is waking up after surgery and seeing my Nanny."
After the procedure, Gage was sent to the Intensive Care Unit where he remained on life support while arrangements were made for him to be transferred to Cook Children's in Fort Worth where he could be seen by pediatric specialists.
"When we got to Cook's, they hooked Gage up to electrodes to monitor his brain activity and make sure he did not have a seizure," Susan says. "At that time, the type of Gage's cancer was still unknown. After two weeks of tests they determined it was a rare type of sarcoma that usually did not occur in the brain. They performed more tests to be certain the cancer wasn't anywhere else in his body because their thoughts were that it had come from another area and landed in his brain. Thankfully, they did not find anything else."
The coma caused Gage to suffer a small stroke which resulted in paralysis in his legs. He progressed quickly through two weeks of physical therapy at Cook's where he learned how to walk again. He also began six weeks of intense radiation therapy treatments five days a week.
"I lost my hair, but my uncle shaved his head in support of me," Gage recalls. "It was funny."
After arriving in late May, the Gregonis left Cook's for the first time in July. They still had to return every three weeks through December for Gage to receive specialized chemotherapy.
"We had lots of family come visit during the six-month period," Susan recalls. "I didn't want to leave Gage. I think I came home once during the whole time he was at the hospital. It was tough being away from home while raising a granddaughter, and my husband was running the household and business by himself, but we managed to make it work."
Three years later, Gage is back to being a busy kid. He has to avoid some activities, such as contact sports, but he enjoys playing video games. He continues to receive a brain scan every six months to ensure the cancer cells do not reappear. He will continue the scans for the next seven years.
"We stayed positive with Gage throughout the whole experience. We didn't say the word 'cancer' very often and we still don't. He did great in the hospital and dealt with everything as it came," Susan says. "We were so close to losing him."
Thankfully, the availability of neurosurgical services at Shannon is 24/7.
"Had Gage's grandmother not brought him in, he would have died," Dr. Duarte says. "If he had come to the ER and the neuro care would not have been available, there would have been no time to airlift him. He would have been brain dead before they reached their destination. Children's Miracle Network is a great service, and providing this kind of care for children in our area can save lives just like Gage's."
Gage and his family are looking forward to the future and his continued health. They are thankful for all the support they have received and the hard work of all the healthcare professionals who took care of Gage.
"I just can't wait to see what he wants to do when he's an adult," Susan says. "I'm not rushing him to grow up, but I just want to give him all the opportunities he needs. He's so talented."