• Toddler diagnosed with aggressive brain tumor

Jayden Gonzalez and his parents

Viola and Felipe Gonzalez were stunned when their youngest son's persistent flu-like symptoms were diagnosed as a brain tumor.

The vomiting, holding his head while crying and unsteadiness weren't just a toddler's brush with the flu bug. A CT scan at the local pediatrician's office showed a mass the size of a quarter on Jayden's brain. He was just 20 months old.

Jayden was transported immediately from Fairmont, Minn., to Mayo Clinic via Mayo One emergency medical helicopter, with his parents following by car. The pediatrician had arranged for a team of pediatric neurologists, oncologists and neurosurgeons to meet Jayden upon arrival.

"It happened so quickly," says Viola. "We were shocked and scared but also relieved because we felt Jayden was in good hands."

At Mayo Clinic, Jayden's tumor was diagnosed as a malignant grade 3 anaplastic ependymoma — a fast-growing tumor in the area of the brain that helps to support and protect the brain and spinal cord. The tumor could block the flow of spinal fluid, causing pressure inside the skull, and result in permanent brain damage or death.

Two days after his arrival at Mayo Clinic, Jayden had surgery to remove the tumor.

"We were very nervous during the surgery," says Viola. "When it was over, the surgeon told us he was confident he got out the entire tumor. We were so proud of the doctors for doing such an excellent job. Everything went better than expected — the surgery took only half as long as predicted, and Jayden woke up very quickly after surgery.

"I can't say enough about how wonderful the nurses were. They not only took care of Jayden, but they also took care of me, too. They comforted me when I cried, answered questions, provided information. They helped make everything so much easier."

Viola and Felipe took Jayden home to recover after a weeklong hospital stay. A month later, Jayden returned to Mayo Clinic for six weeks of radiation therapy to prevent new cancer cells from growing. Felipe stayed in Rochester with him, and Viola and brothers Felipe Jr. and Jose visited on weekends and holidays. They stayed at the Ronald McDonald House.

Jayden's follow-up brain scans have been clear. The tumor has a 60 percent chance of recurrence, so Jayden will be monitored closely throughout childhood, including regular brain scans.

Viola says Jayden has minor developmental delays, possibly a side effect of radiation. "He improves every day. It will take time," she says.

"We're so happy Jayden's tumor was diagnosed and we were able to get the care he needed so fast. All of our family is in Texas, and they've wanted us to move back since Jayden became ill — so they can support us. But we won't move away from Mayo Clinic until we know Jayden will be okay. The doctors there know him well, and we trust them to take the best possible care of him."

Related articles