He had a ‘massive’ tumor and now it’s gone

Blog Colton Web

Two-year-old bounces back after brain surgery with help from a lot of angels.

Other than the large scar on the back of his bald head, you wouldn’t know that 2-year-old Colton Fritz was recovering from brain surgery.

He’s sitting on the floor in his room at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health, playing with cars and laughing at occupational therapist Brittany McFarland’s attempts to play peek-a-boo over his shoulder.

It’s a hearty laugh, a shriek at times before it dissolves into giggles. And when the boy laughs, everyone in the room laughs.

If laughter is good medicine, Colton is getting his fill this morning. His mom, Stacie Fritz, watches as her son tries to crawl after the toys spread out on a sheet in front of him. He’s a bit unsteady, a bit reluctant, even though she swears he’s been crawling at home.

Colton’s surgery just four days earlier was performed by Riley pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Jodi Smith. The boy who loves everything “Paw Patrol” was diagnosed in October in Chicago with medulloblastoma, a highly malignant cerebellar tumor. Doctors there removed part of the mass, but his parents, who live in Portage, Ind., brought him to Riley for further treatment.

“Colton’s tumor was massive,” Dr. Smith said. “He came to Riley and was treated with aggressive chemotherapy. The residual tumor that I took out was high up in the cerebellum and in a difficult location, (but) I’m quite confident that I got all of the tumor out. Most importantly, Colton did very well.”

Stacie said her son had a rough time right after surgery. “His little face was all puffed out. He’s been through so much.” But he seems to have forgotten about that now. The support from staff has helped. The nurses made him laugh during chemo, and a music therapist played her guitar and sang to him at bedside. Oh, and a visit from Andrew Luck and other Indianapolis Colts in December didn’t hurt, either.

When McFarland came in for therapy, she greeted her patient with enthusiasm. “Colton! Hi bubba, you look so good, you want to play, want to get out of bed?”

He gives her a shy smile, and she gently lifts him out of his crib and places him on the covered mat on the floor.

“We’re working on getting him up more out of bed, working on fine motor skills and coordination,” she explained. “He looks really good. It’s a challenge to make him smile, so if we can do that, then we win.”

Colton chatters a lot, but he’s not talking in sentences yet. He makes vowel sounds and says ball, mama, dada. He was born with hydrocephalus, a condition in which excess cerebrospinal fluid builds up within the ventricles of the brain, increasing pressure in the head. Treatment includes placing a shunt into a ventricle to drain the excess fluid.

He was walking with a walker before surgery, his mom said, but crawling is his favorite mode of travel. McFarland tries to encourage the toddler to move by putting his toys just out of reach, but he’s more interested in her ID badge. So she throws that down on the sheet, and he scoots forward to grab it, squealing with delight.

As Stacie watches, she talks about the dread she felt when doctors in Chicago told her and her husband, Clayton, that their son had a cancerous brain tumor. “I just remember telling them to fix it.”

But God has been faithful through it all, she said. “We prayed a lot, and our friends are praying for him.”

Colton has two older sisters, ages 16 and 20, and he has “one in heaven,” Stacie said. She was born prematurely and died before Colton was born.  

Colton faces still more follow-up treatment and therapy in the months ahead, his mom said, but she is hopeful for his future.

“I want him to grow and learn and have God in his life. He’s gonna do all right.”

– By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist
   Email: mgilmer1@iuhealth.org
   Photos by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist
   Email: mdickbernd@iuhealth.org

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