Nicole Skaro knew something wasn't right when the Emergency Department physician came in a fourth time to look at photos she'd taken of her young son, Vito. In the images, he was looking out of the corner of his eyes and holding his head in what she describes as "unnatural, weird" positions.
Doctors initially thought Vito might have the same neurological eye disorder their oldest son was born with. So Vito's pediatrician suggested the Skaros see an ophthalmologist or a neurologist to be sure. A few weeks later, Vito's condition worsened. "I came home from work one day and Vito was just lying on the couch," Nicole says. "He gave me this look that said, 'Help me.'" When Nicole tried to sit Vito up, "he just flopped over."
An emergency call to Vito's pediatrician came with emergency instructions. "She said, 'You need to get him to the Emergency Room right away,'" Nicole says. Hours later, a neurologist diagnosed young Vito with medulloblastoma, the "most common cancerous brain tumor in children," according to mayoclinic.org. "We were terrified," Nicole says. More terrifying, however, was what came next. After multiple surgeries and 195 days of in-patient treatments, Vito's tumor was showing no signs of going away, and scans showed three new lesions.
It was then, Nicole says, that Vito's doctors began talking about proton beam therapy. "We called Mayo Clinic because they had just opened their proton beam facility in Rochester," she says. They had planned to take Vito elsewhere, but were turned away after doctors there decided there was nothing more they could do. "They said, 'Unless you do full brain and spine radiation we don't think your son has a chance for survival," she says.
At Mayo, Nicole says giving up was never an option. "His doctors said, 'what they told you in Chicago isn't wrong, but we don't see why we can't try (proton beam radiation),'" she says. "We were in tears because Mayo was at least willing to try to help Vito and give him a chance rather than giving him a death certificate."
And last week, following six weeks of treatments, the "chance at life" Mayo gave Vito turned into a chance for him to ring a bell signaling the end of his proton beam treatments, as KIMT-TV and KTTC-TV reported. And though Vito still has a long road ahead of him (including upcoming stem cell transplants at the University of Minnesota), Nicole says it's a road he wouldn't be on without the help of his Mayo care team. "They gave us hope," she says. "They said, 'we'll do everything we can to help Vito,' and they did."
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