MOTHERLY LOVE — Arianna Hansen, right, and her mother, Amy. (Star Eagle photo by Jessica Lutgens)
By JESSICA LUTGENS
Courage can often be found in those one might least expect.
Such is the case with Arianna Hansen, an 11-year-old fifth-grade student at NRHEG. In 2009, when Arianna was in kindergarten, a MRI revealed a brain tumor on her optic nerve.
“Her left eye had started to spasm,” Arianna’s mother, Amy, explained. “We took her in for an eye exam, and then we went to Rochester for the MRI.”
This type of brain tumor is called optic nerve glioma, and while rare, they almost always occur in children before age 20. In Arianna’s situation, if the tumor were not removed eventually, it would cause her to lose her vision.
At the time, because it is statistically slow-growing, it was thought the tumor likely wouldn’t grow – and if it did, only minimally.“There wasn’t concern about it growing too large,” Amy said.
And for five years, the tumor remained stagnant. But symptoms began to occur again last spring; Arianna was having headaches, which her parents thought were caused by the braces she had gotten recently. Several months passed without any new symptoms.
“In September, she started showing neurological signs – disorientation, walking into walls,” Amy explained. “We took her back to Rochester for an MRI and found out that the tumor had grown three times its size.”
They discovered the headaches were due to pressure from brain fluid being unable to drain properly. Her vision had been poor for about a year, which is common with optic nerve glioma, but because of the size and pressure of the tumor, the doctors wanted to operate as soon as possible. The surgery, however, is very risky.
“It was scary,” Amy said, “having to make a possibly fatal decision.”
She knew it was her daughter’s best chance, and gave the approval to go ahead with the surgery. The doctors started tests to determine the position of the tumor, which operation to perform, and how the operation would proceed.
A few days before the surgery, Arianna’s vision started to weaken, but she remained strong with the support of her family and the doctors and nurses at St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester.
“She was so brave,” Amy said, smiling at Arianna in the chair beside her. “She got up there [on the hospital bed] and knew they were going to give her sleepy medicine.”
The complex operation was successful in removing half of the tumor, which is all that could be safely removed.
“It was kind of a guessing game as far as when to stop,” she said. “They weren’t sure how much of the tumor to remove without jeopardizing her vision.”
A shunt almost had to be placed in order to allow fluids to drain properly, but fortunately Arianna’s body was at a point to maintain this on its own. Arianna was glad they didn’t have to cut too much of her hair for the surgery, asking for a mirror when she awoke.
“He [the doctor] promised,” she said with a shy smile.
Although the surgery went well, the prognosis is not very good. Arianna’s vision has been severely impacted; currently, she has no vision in her left eye. With the other eye she can see objects and shapes, but faces are unclear, and she sees more grey than colors.
“It’s been hard,” Amy said about the adjustments the family has made since the diagnosis. “Seeing therapists, dealing with all the changes with seeing and getting around.”
Arianna’s father, Joe Hansen, began working at home so he can be available more. She also has a younger sister, Becca, 8, and an older brother, Braden, 12.
The surgery was two months ago, and since, Arianna has been working with a mobility therapist as well as teachers that come to her home. She’s learned Braille, and visits her friends during lunch at school twice a week. Last month, she was named Student of the Month.
“She’s doing her best to learn new things,” Amy said. “One way people can help is just by introducing yourself before starting a conversation, since it can be hard for her to remember different peoples’ voices.”
Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for regaining Arianna’s vision.
“Maybe someday, with science and medicine advancements,” said Amy. “We’re just grateful that she can still see shapes and objects and that she’s able to get around.”
The community has been very supportive through this family’s difficult time. On Sunday, Dec. 6, a benefit pancake breakfast will be held at New Richland City Hall, followed by a silent auction, to help raise funds for medical and other costs.
Amy thanked Theresa Grubstad and Tina Zimmerman for putting together the fundraiser, and expressed her appreciation to Arianna’s teachers, doctors and others who have helped and supported them.
“We’re so grateful for the support, love and encouragement we’ve received from the community, family and friends,” Amy said. “It’s been a blessing.”