TWO RIVERS, Wis. (AP) - Jimmy Vanderlinden is like many other 7-year-old boys. He likes to watch TV, especially “SpongeBob SquarePants,” and enjoys video games as well. He prefers to run up slides instead of sliding down, despite his mother’s protests.
But the soon-to-be second-grade student never learned to ride a bicycle. And he’s already endured two brain surgeries and a year’s worth of chemotherapy.
“But Jimmy was lucky,” his optimistic mother, Val Vanderlinden, pointed out. “He didn’t lose his hair from the chemo, so he looked like he was normal.”
The symptoms started when Jimmy was 3 years old. He was vomiting two to three times a day. But it was only when his kindergarten teacher saw him having seizures that Val asked their doctor for a referral to a pediatric neurosurgeon. It was in 2011 that doctors found a ganglioglioma tumor in Jimmy’s left temporal lobe.
Even though the tumor is slow-growing and non-aggressive, a resection of the tumor early on is necessary.
Doctors told Jimmy about this on his fifth birthday; Val insisted they push it to the next day.
While the surgery helped, it did not completely remove the tumor. Patients with this type of rare tumor, which is more common in children and young adults, usually become terminal by their late teens or 20s, Val told HTR Media (https://htrne.ws/1jkdsGh).
In the beginning, the Vanderlindens had trouble navigating their way through the hospital. After asking for directions, a doctor, trying to be reassuring, said they’d find their way around the place fairly quickly.
“This made me sick,” Val recalled. “I didn’t want to know my way around this building. But we learned. And it’s become our life.”
In June 2012, doctors did a more aggressive surgery that resulted in Jimmy essentially having a stroke. He temporarily lost control of the right side of his body for a few months and permanently lost peripheral vision on both sides.
He now favors his left side and is “a little clumsy on his feet,” Val said, which explains how he never gained enough coordination to ride a bike.
“The Jimmy we know is not the one he could’ve been,” Val said.
But she went further.
“The Jimmy we know now may not be the same Jimmy we’ll have tomorrow.”
Val explained that if the tumor grows even a millimeter, Jimmy’s memory, speech or sight could be affected.
The tumor has already invaded his hypothalamus, the portion of the brain that regulates hunger, so Jimmy continues to eat because he never feels full, even if he is.
After chemotherapy yielded little results, a child life coordinator told the family Jimmy qualified for Make-A-Wish.
Val and her husband, Kory, formulated a list of ideas for Jimmy to pick from, but hoped he’d pick something more lasting than a trip.
Jimmy’s sister, Laney, is only 5, so the children are young enough that they might forget a trip in a couple of years, said Kory.
The Vanderlindens decided on a play space for the kids, something their modest home lacked.
However, the Make-A-Wish Foundation cannot add value to homes, so finishing the basement had to be completed before the foundation came in.
The Kasey Herman Memorial Fund and Towocs Days donated money to buy the drywall, lighting and 2-by-4s.
Both parents were born and raised in Two Rivers, so their strong ties to the community helped in seeking volunteers.
Kris Klein, a Two Rivers firefighter, brought up the project in a meeting and recruited firemen Patrick Krajnik, Gary Brandl, Lee Stadler, Chad Kakes, Gary Shaulik and Mark Guehlstorf to donate their time and finish the family’s basement.
“We like to give back to the community with fundraisers, but this was a more individual, personal contribution,” said Klein.
Kory’s sister, Kay, and her husband, Carl Coenen, installed carpeting; Chris and Geri Kluczinskidonated ceiling materials. Many other friends and family assisted throughout the construction process, which spanned April 2013 to last December.
From there, Make-A-Wish employees came in and developed a jungle-themed playroom. A stuffed giraffe sat in a corner of the room and walls became a mural of trees, rivers and dinosaurs. A grass hut serves as a lounge area with comfy jungle print pillows scattered across the floor. To exit the hut, both stairs and a slide are available.
Make-A-Wish also donated an air hockey table, basketball hoop, game console, TV and board games.
As much as Jimmy loves the space now, Val likes how easily the basement can transition into a “man cave” with a fresh coat of paint when he gets older.
As of February, Jimmy’s MRIs show the tumor to still be growing. The Vanderlindens are now looking for more natural or experimental options.
“He’s getting to the age where he understands he has to go through something other kids don’t have to,” Val said. “But I want him to be able to understand that he got this (playroom) for what he went through and the community supported him enough to help out.”
Information from: HTR Media, https://www.htrnews.com
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