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Teen remains upbeat despite cancer

Managing editor

In what seems like a blink of an eye, a family’s life went from normal to scary uncertainty.

More than six weeks ago, Thane Hurst was an average 14-year-old Hillsboro High School freshman with a passion for golf.

These days he is recuperating from spinal surgery. His day includes physical therapy of walking and exercising.

Much of his day is spent lying in bed — watching TV and playing video games — allowing his body to heal.

Care has to be given to the affected area — limited jostling and definitely no contact sports.

It all began when the aspiring player was competing with his team May 8 on the Marion Country Club golf course. Thane passed out on the course.

He was taken to Hillsboro Community Hospital and examined by Dr. Randy Claassen.

“At first Dr. Claassen thought it was dehydration,” Ginger Hurst, Thane’s mother, said.

When efforts to rehydrate Thane did not seem to work, the doctor decided to look at other causes. The first option he wanted to rule out was an aneurism, so an MRI was ordered. There was no aneurism. But something was detected. Doctors didn’t know for sure what it was.

The following Tuesday, Thane and his family went to a neurosurgeon in Wichita. The specialist determined there was a tumor and a cyst in Thane’s spinal cord.

“I didn’t have any idea this was going on,” Thane said. “I had neck pain before. I would go to the chiropractor and get it fixed.”

When Thane was told of the tumor, his reaction was to get it fixed and move on.

Surgery was scheduled for May 21 at Via Christi Medical Center-St. Francis Campus, Wichita. Doctors told the family the surgery could take up to 12 hours, depending on what the doctor found and decided to do.

After several hours of delays because the surgeon was performing another surgery, Thane finally went into the operating room.

The young man’s back was opened from the base of his skull to about the middle of his back, exposing eight vertebrae — C3 through C7 and T1 through T3.

After four hours of surgery, the surgeon determined it was too difficult to distinguish tumor from good tissue. A small sample was removed for a biopsy. Staples were used to close up Thane’s back and neck.

“When they did that, they cut the backs of the vertebrae and cut into the spinal cord,” Ginger said.

That layer will not grow back.

Thane’s muscles also were cut, as were some ligaments. Fortunately, those will grow back.

The next day after the surgery, Thane was up and walking.

After a week in the hospital, he went home to recover.

His biopsy was sent to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. The family then received good news — the tumor was benign and slow growing.

The cancer, astrocytoma, is rare — one case in 100,000 people.

Astrocytomas are most commonly found in the main part of the brain but can occur in the base and in the spinal cord. Astrocytomas in the base of the brain, like Thane’s, are more common in young people.

Since being dismissed from the hospital, Thane has worn braces on his neck and torso to keep him from turning his head or twisting his upper body while the staples were in place and the incision was healing.

“I’m like a tree trunk,” Thane said.

The staples were removed a couple of weeks ago, allowing Thane’s back to continue healing. While convalescing, Thane has lost two-thirds of his muscles. Physical therapy two times a week is developing new muscles and allowing more dexterity as he continues to heal.

He is able to remove the lower torso brace while he is lying down. The other braces will be removed July 2.

When family friends Brice and Val Goebel of Marion heard of the family’s need, they provided a used hospital bed, now located in the Hursts’ living room.

This allows Thane to be a part of the family’s activities. His room normally is in the upstairs of the family’s home, which would have been difficult for him to reach.

While recovering, Thane tries to keep busy and mostly looks forward to returning to the golf course.

In the meantime, his parents, Tim and Ginger, are determined to find the best treatment for their son.

Doctors have been contacted throughout the country — particularly those who have treated this type of disease.

Treatments could include aggressive surgery to remove what surgeons can, but this could leave the young man paralyzed or, at least, with permanent neurological damage.

Other options being considered are less aggressive surgery with chemotherapy or a one-time treatment of radiology, all with some sort of side affect.

The only side affect Thane had after his first surgery was a tingling in the little finger on his right hand.

Another surgery probably is in Thane’s future.

“I’m not thrilled about it,” Thane said. “I’m tired of the braces but I just want to get it over with.”

The community has been supportive to the family throughout their ordeal.

The Rev. Brett Huebner of Zion Lutheran Church, Hillsboro, baptized Thane before his surgery and stayed with the family during the procedure.

Ginger’s mother, Sandy Entz of Peabody, has helped the family by staying with Thane while his parents went to their jobs.

Becky Larson, a family friend, also assisted the family by caring for the pets.

“Through the Internet, I’ve found a group of other parents who have children with this disease,” Ginger said.

One such woman has a son who was diagnosed when he was 20 months old. The child now is 6 years old and lives a normal life. His doctor is at John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and was able to remove 95 percent of the tumor.

The Hursts also have talked with doctors in Colorado and Florida, and at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.

A surgeon in Denver said he had seen 25 cases in the past nine years.

Keeping a positive attitude has brought Thane a long way through this ordeal.

“A positive attitude is a must,” Tim said.

Staying focused on the prize — being able to golf — is keeping Thane motivated.

An autographed photo of professional golfer Todd Hamilton hasn’t hurt either. His cousin gave Thane the photograph, which he took with him to the hospital.

Thane will turn 15 July 10, a milestone for any teen. But his real aspiration is to return to Marion golf course where this life-changing event occurred — to finish the game he started and to beat his disease.

Ginger is bookkeeper for Hoch Publishing Co., publisher of the Marion County Record, Hillsboro Star-Journal, and Peabody Gazette-Bulletin. Tim is a salesman.

Last modified June 24, 2009

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