When 10-year-old Oliver Palmer started having vision problems, his parents Stacy and Ed took him to the eye doctor. His eyes were fine, but subsequent tests at their local hospital found something very, very wrong; Oliver had a brain tumor located in the middle of his brain stem, where the cerebrum connects with the spinal cord.
A few days later, on New Year’s Eve 2009, doctors at University of Iowa Children’s Hospital verified that he had a diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, a tumor responsible for five to 10 percent of brain tumors in school-age children. This type of tumor, especially one located so deep in his brain, doesn’t respond well to chemotherapy or surgery so the family and the doctors agreed to radiation therapy to try to stop the growth of the tumor.
For six weeks, Oliver and his parents drove three hours round-trip to UI Children’s Hospital for radiation treatments. It was a tough time, but the family is grateful that they could take their son to a nationally ranked hospital and be home later that same day.
Stacy says, “People ask us why we chose UI Children’s Hospital for his care. We answer that it’s a children’s hospital. For something this scary, you want a place that’s used to treating children, who know how to talk to them and help them.”
Oliver’s diagnosis at the end of 2009 capped a year of ups and downs for the Palmer family. Stacy was hospitalized and had surgery at UI Hospitals and Clinics earlier in the year and just three weeks before Oliver’s diagnosis she had given birth to their fourth child, Phineas.
Adds Ed, who took time off work to make the trips to Iowa City with Oliver, “I thought Children’s Hospital provided the best level of care. It was important for us to maintain some form of a normal life at home for the kids and us.
“We were very impressed with the Children’s Hospital staff and grateful for everything they’ve done for Oliver.”
For this close-knit family, life at home is something to be cherished. In addition to Phineas, Oliver is big brother to Edenand Jarenand a network of family and friends live nearby. Tutored at home, Oliver enjoys spelling and sports, especially the Iowa Hawkeyes.
Radiation therapy seems to have stopped the growth of the tumor, although Oliver has some weakness on his left side and problems with balance. He returns every three months for an MRI.
Adds Ed, “When we first came to the hospital, Oliver was just a little nine-year-old boy who was scared out his mind, but they made him feel better. He says he loves going there. It’s phenomenal.”
Having a chronically ill child gives you a “new normal,” says Stacy. Oliver even planned his own baseball-themed sleepover party for four of his friends to celebrate his 10th birthday.
Oliver says, “I like Children’s Hospital,” smiling as he mentions a social worker who plays with him. When asked what he’d say to the doctors and nurses and the “guy with silly string,” Oliver says, “Thanks for being good.”
In memory of Oliver Palmer
July 11, 2001 to February 16, 2012