Boy battles brain cancer with help from community – WFTV Orlando
by: RACHEL STAMFORD, Orlando Sentinel
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) – Inside his living room in east Orange County, 8-year-old Alan Vasquez plays with Legos, building a city that includes plastic cars and a replica of Arkham Asylum, the fictional psychiatric hospital in Batman comic books.
Outside, boys run around and chase each other with toy guns. Alan can hear them set up camp in his front yard, but he’s too tired to play with them.
Alan has an aggressive form of brain cancer. While he has improved since his treatment began earlier this year, he has a long road ahead of him.
Fortunately for him, he does not walk this road alone.
Alan’s neighbors have rallied to his cause – from arranging meals for the overwhelmed family to raising money for Alan’s treatment in Mexico.
“He’s a child. It could be anybody’s child,” said Elena Colon, a family friend who works at the U.S. Post Office’s Alafaya Branch with Alan’s father and organized a community fundraiser for Alan.
Alan’s family, which includes mother Midy, father Ricardo and two brothers, have lived in east Orange County – first in Avalon Park and now Stoneybrook – since 2004.
A wiry second grader, Alan’s favorite superhero is Batman, and he likes math and sports – including baseball and football. He was playing league flag football in February when the coach’s wife noticed Alan was limping on his left leg and slurring his words.
Thinking it was a sports injury, Midy Vasquez took Alan to an orthopedic doctor who performed X-rays. Before Alan could be taken to a specialist, his symptoms worsened.
Two days later at Stone Lakes Elementary School, Alan went to the front office complaining that his head and entire left side hurt.
“On the way to the hospital I could see his left lip droopy,” recalled Midy Vasquez, a human resources administrator. “I thought he was having a stroke.”
Vasquez said Nemours Children’s Hospital staff discovered Alan had a tumor in his spinal cord. He was diagnosed with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG), an aggressive form of cancer at the base of the brain. DIPG has no known cure and an almost impossible survival rate. Only 10 percent of children with DIPG survive for two years following their diagnosis, and less than 1 percent survive for five years, according to the Michael Mosier Defeat DIPG Foundation.
Alan was transferred to Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, where he was fitted for a radiation mask while his mother explored more holistic treatments.
Dr. Zhi Liang Huo in Winter Park began treating Alan’s double vision and leg numbness with acupuncture and herbal powder. Midy said he began to improve after two weeks.
But he still needed chemotherapy and surgery to remove the tumor in his spinal cord.
Midy began researching an alternative procedure and discovered an intra-arterial chemotherapy treatment, which goes through a major artery to the brain to infuse drugs.
The catch: The procedure is performed in Monterrey, Mexico. The family’s health insurance does not cover treatment outside of the country. So Midy and Ricardo decided to sell their home and move into a rental property to help offset the cost.