Saturday, September 22, 2018
News Roundup

Surprise discovery of brain tumor ends in relief, recovery for 15-year-old Valrico girl

ST. PETERSBURG — For Ashlee Gordon, the double vision came and went.

Her doctors had different theories over the years. One thought it was an eye problem. Another suggested it was allergies. Another still said Ashlee was perfectly fine.

But when the 15-year-old from Valrico started seeing black spots, her mother decided to get to the bottom of it.

Last Thursday, mother and daughter went to an optometrist at Brandon Town Center Mall. Dr. Sylvia Bernatsky performed the usual battery of eye exams; everything seemed normal.

But after dilating Ashlee's pupils, Bernatsky became concerned.

Both of the girl's optic nerves were swollen — a red flag.

Bernatsky told Jamie Wilson to take her daughter to St. Joseph's Children's Hospital in Tampa immediately. The girl needed an MRI. There was pressure building in her head.

Wilson did as she was told.

• • •

Ashlee had never really complained about the double vision, Wilson thought as she waited in the emergency room with her daughter. It hadn't stopped her from excelling at dance, or taking up acro, a dance style that combines classical techniques with gymnastics.

She was always singing, smiling, performing.

Now, she was sitting in a hospital bed.

The MRI revealed the unimaginable: a tumor the size of a small plum on Ashlee's brain stem. It was growing on her cerebellum, the part of the brain that makes the eyes move together, among other things.

The growth was affecting more than just Ashlee's vision. It was large enough to plug the drainage system in her brain, causing fluid to back up in her skull.

She needed surgery — and urgently.

Two days later, Ashlee traveled by ambulance to Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg, which has a new Institute for Brain Protection Sciences. On the ride over, she watched Tangled, a movie about the adventures of a feisty young princess.

• • •

The surgery was scheduled for 7:30 a.m. Tuesday.

It was inherently risky. Like other surgeries on the brain, the procedure had the potential to affect Ashlee's speech and vision, and her ability to eat and drink.

Jamie Wilson wondered if her daughter would wake up the same person. She asked for prayers on a Facebook page she created called Ashlee's Journey.

The first priority was to put a drainage tube in Ashlee's brain, said Dr. Gerald Tuite, a pediatric neurosurgeon who performed the procedure with Dr. George Jallo.

"That helped relieve the pressure," Tuite said.

The surgeons made an incision down the back of Ashlee's neck and removed a piece of bone from the back of her skull. They then removed the tumor and replaced the bone.

It took about four hours, Tuite said.

The doctors delivered two pieces of good news to Jamie Wilson that morning.

First: Ashlee had awoken after surgery and wasn't likely to have any long-term problems with swallowing, speaking or her vision.

Also: The tumor was benign.

Wilson shared her joy on Facebook.

"GOD IS SO SO GOOD ALL THE TIME!"

• • •

About 4,600 children will be diagnosed with a brain tumor this year, according to the American Brain Tumor Association. It isn't clear what causes them, or why some kids are more susceptible than others.

The cerebellum is a particularly common spot.

Tuite, the pediatric neurosurgeon, said Ashlee showed grit.

"I've removed tumors in this location from hundreds of kids," he said. "I'd say she is one of the strongest. It's a hard thing to go through. She's always smiling. She always has good attitude."

Ashlee, who is home-schooled, knows she has a long recovery ahead. She'll be in the hospital for at least another week. It could take months for her double vision to go away entirely.

But Ashlee has kept her spirits up.

On Friday — three days after surgery — she sat up in bed and had a conversation with her mom. She wore a pair of fashionable, dark sunglasses to keep the light out of her eyes.

Ashlee asked her mom about attending a dance competition next month. While that was out of the question, her mother assured her she would get back to her favorite pastime again soon.

"We're blessed," her mother said.

Contact Kathleen McGrory at [email protected] or (727) 893-8330. Follow @kmcgrory.

Comments
For starters: Rays at Blue Jays, with Meadows in the lineup

For starters: Rays at Blue Jays, with Meadows in the lineup

After a crushing defeat Thursday and Friday's bounceback win, the Rays take on the Blue Jays again today, first pitch 4:07.OF Austin Meadows, who made an impressive showing coming off the bench on Friday gets his first start today in rightfield. Mead...
Updated: 6 minutes ago
Football: Tampa Bay Tech 28, Hillsborough 27

Football: Tampa Bay Tech 28, Hillsborough 27

TAMPA — The decision was made as soon as Hillsborough got the ball back. Trailing by a touchdown with just over four minutes remaining against Tampa Bay Tech, the Terriers had the ball on their own 6-yard line.They hadn't been able to move the ...
Updated: 21 minutes ago
Football: Clearwater 34, Mitchell 7

Football: Clearwater 34, Mitchell 7

TRINITY — What at first looked like a defensive stalemate between Clearwater and Mitchell quickly turned into a rout.Clearwater had revenge on its mind Friday night after a 45-28 loss to Mitchell last year during the the regular season. The Tor...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Pinellas Park man killed in rollover crash near Feather Sound

Pinellas Park man killed in rollover crash near Feather Sound

ST. PETERSBURG — A 47-year-old Pinellas Park man died Friday night after his pickup truck veered into oncoming traffic, rolled over and ejected him, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.Troopers said the crash took place at 7:15 p.m. at Feather So...
Updated: 1 hour ago
USF’s Kitija Laksa begins play in FIBA Women’s World Cup

USF’s Kitija Laksa begins play in FIBA Women’s World Cup

Before resuming her assault on USF's record books, Kitija Laksa will try to make history with her homeland.A native of Riga, Latvia, Laksa begins play with her native country this morning in the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup in Spain.Latvia is ma...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Football: Largo 35, Countryside 0

Football: Largo 35, Countryside 0

LARGO — The offense was relentless and merciless Friday night, but that has been the case a lot recently. Largo is scoring points in bunches and getting contributions from everyone. Add in a defense that has been smothering, as well as a special team...
Published: 09/22/18
How do you explain active shooters to a first-grader? For educators, school safety is a ‘work in progress.’

How do you explain active shooters to a first-grader? For educators, school safety is a ‘work in progress.’

Active assailant. Run-hide-fight. Barricade the classroom. The language of preventing a shooting like the one this year at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is often filled with terms that can stir up fear in students, often out of necessity.But f...
Published: 09/22/18
Doby needed surgery. It cost $10,000. Twitter to the rescue.

Doby needed surgery. It cost $10,000. Twitter to the rescue.

Two full-time University of South Florida students found themselves with a $10,000 bill to keep their beloved mutt Doby alive. So they turned to the Internet.Twitter to the rescue — for once.It started Sept. 15, when USF student Sarah Marie Grassi le...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Rays bounce back big after a debacle

Rays bounce back big after a debacle

TORONTO — The way the Rays played Friday — all nine innings, lesson learned — in beating the Jays 11-3 provided the best answer on how, or even if, they could rebound from the crushing loss the night before that all but ended their ...
Updated: 11 hours ago

Football: Sickles 7, Freedom 3

TAMPA — Sickles needed a goal-line stand late in the fourth quarter to escape Freedom 7-3 on Homecoming and remain in the hunt for a Class 7A, District 8 title.Gryphons coach Patrick Murphy knew that facing the Patriots would be a battle. Freedom (1-...
Published: 09/21/18
Updated: 09/22/18