'Good to be alive'

Adams Central seventh-grader Seth Ostrander, shown here
in a December 2012 photo, was diagnosed with a brain
tumor in September and will undergo several surgeries to
remove it completely.

Editor's note: The following story appeared in the Dec. 24, 2012, Hastings Tribune.

Update: A benefit will be Sunday for an Adams Central student being treated for a brain tumor. Seth Ostrander, 13, was diagnosed with a brain tumor last fall. He has undergone four brain surgeries and more medical treatment is required in the future.

As a way to help defray the costs, friends and family are hosting the Seth Ostrander 'So Strong' benefit Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Hastings City Auditorium, 400 N. Hastings Ave.

The event will include a free-will donation meal, silent auction, bake sale and entertainment. A bank account accepting donations has also been set up at US Bank in the name of "Seth Ostrander Medical Benefit Fund."

Seth Ostrander heard the song on Labor Day.

He had fallen asleep in the car on the way to the Nebraska State Fair in Grand Island, and when he awoke, it was on the radio.

"I really like this song," he told his parents.

He didn't know then what the song would mean just days later, how the lyrics would ring true.

He didn't know the recent headaches and fatigue had a frightening cause.

He didn't know he would be lying on an operating table while a surgeon removed an egg-sized tumor from his brain.

Today, the song by Christian artist Jason Gray is Seth's theme song: "I wanna live like there's no tomorrow; love like I'm on borrowed time.

"It's good to be alive."

Shocking news

It was early August when 13-year-old Seth started waking up in the morning with painful headaches that plagued him for hours.

"I just had to grab my head, it hurt so bad," Seth said from his family's home Tuesday. "And sometimes I remember hearing my heart beat in my ears."

Maybe the heat from football practice in mid-August was getting to him, his mom thought. Or perhaps it was migraines, which run in the family.

But the fatigue was becoming extreme, and some days he would sleep for as many as 20 hours. Dad Lonny recalls going to get Seth for supper and finding him asleep on the neighbors' trampoline.

In early September, Melissa took her son to the doctor's office where they drew blood to test for everything from West Nile virus to mononucleosis.

Six days later, the results were all back, but doctors had no answers. There were plans for a CAT scan on Monday, but Seth couldn't last through the weekend with the pain.

"He wasn't crying, but I knew it was bad when he said, 'Dad I just want to die,' " Lonny said.

So on a Saturday, Melissa took her son to Mary Lanning Healthcare for a CAT scan.

The result was not what the Ostranders were expecting — nothing they had even imagined. Seth had a brain tumor.

The egg-sized mass was sitting between Seth's two optic nerves and would need to be removed. The tumor, later determined to be a grade 1 pilocytic astrocytoma, likely had been there for years, but doctors believe it had only started growing within the previous few months.

"We never really knew anybody with a brain tumor," Lonny said. "Somebody may have thought of it, but nobody ever said anything to us."

Seth was immediately transported to Children's Hospital in Omaha via ambulance to prepare for surgery later that week.

In Omaha, doctors gave Seth steroids to help reduce the swelling in his brain, but nothing helped with the pain. He had been taking Tylenol and ibuprofen at home, but nothing provided relief. The tumor was preventing the spinal fluid from draining out of the brain cavity, causing Seth's painful headaches.

A couple days before the surgery, an external ventricular drain was put in to help remove some of the spinal fluid.

"It was instant relief," Seth said. "I didn't have any headaches after that at all."

Going into surgery, there were countless uncertainties for Melissa and Lonny. Would the surgeon be able to remove the tumor? Would Seth still be able to see? Would he be the same person afterward?

"We thought we'd have a different kid coming out," Lonny said. "They said they did a similar surgery on this girl and it changed her personality and tore the family apart. That did me in."

But when surgeons went after the tumor Sept. 13, they were pleased with what they found. The tumor was soft and malleable and easier to remove than the hard mass it appeared to be.

Due to a major blood vessel running through the tumor, however, the surgeons were only able to remove 40 percent of it. They put in a permanent shunt to drain the spinal fluid from his brain cavity into his stomach.

Swelling on Seth's brain after surgery affected his vision — which was 20/20 previously — but doctors say it will come back in time. For now, he can still see most everything and only has a few limitations.

His hand-eye coordination also was affected. But otherwise, Seth was the same kid coming out of surgery as he was going in — minus the crippling headaches.

In the next few months, doctors will create a plan that will likely include multiple surgeries. Chemotherapy is a possibility, but radiation is not because of the damage it would do to Seth's optic nerves, leaving him blind.

Seth stayed in Omaha for about 10 days before returning home. He returned to classes at Adams Central Sept. 24, just 11 days after brain surgery.

Help along the way

From the day the Ostranders received Seth's diagnosis, they have felt the love of the community. Just talking about it makes Melissa cry.

Students at Adams Central sold T-shirts that said "Good to Be Alive," the title of that favorite song. The more than $2,000 raised from the sale of the shirts was given to the family to help cover Seth's medical expenses.

On the day of his surgery, the students wrote Seth's initials on their hands and prayed in the cafeteria during lunch time, the same time as Seth's surgery.

A group of parents, neighbors and Seth's elementary school principal, Lonnie Abbott, stood in a circle in the family's driveway the day of the surgery, praying and listening to Seth's song.

The secretary at Juniata Elementary created a database and had more than 30 people volunteer to take meals to the family's three older sons — Blake, 20, Grant, 18, and Reid, 15 — each night while their parents were in Omaha with Seth.

"It was just overwhelming," Melissa said with tears in her eyes.

Within the first week after they went to Omaha, Lonny said the family's front room was full of groceries.

"I didn't even get to read half of my messages on Facebook," she said. "For a month after I got home, people were sending me messages offering to do my laundry and everything. The people all made it easier for us."

The family knows that Seth's recovery will be a marathon and not the sprint they had hoped for. But they are thankful for what they have this Christmas.

"We are thankful to be together as a family this Christmas, and we really try not to take that for granted," Melissa said. "We are especially mindful of what Christmas really means: the birth of our Savior. Without our faith in him, I don't know how we would have made it through the last four months."


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