Christian Ward
Jefferson County
Feature Story
One day, Christian Ward complained of back pain. Then his eyes suddenly became sensitive to light.

“He couldn’t walk 10 feet without complaining about his back,” said Christian’s mother, La Tongna Ward Mitchell. “I took him to the pediatrician and the on-call doctor shrugged it off as growing pains. She checked his eyes, but didn’t think anything was wrong.”

Christian felt nauseated and his eye sensitivity worsened. He and La Tongna returned to the pediatrician, and though Christian’s bloodwork came back normal, La Tongna knew something was wrong. “I got an eye doctor there to look at him, and he saw that his optic nerves were very swollen,” she said. “At that point, they brought in a neurologist and did an MRI. It revealed a brain tumor the size of a golf ball.”

Christian was sent to Children’s of Alabama, where he was diagnosed with hydrocephalus or fluid on the brain. Emergency surgery was performed to relieve the pressure. “[Children’s Pediatric Neurosurgeon] Dr. James Johnston was so great,” La Tongna said. “He was very reassuring that everything was going to be fine.”

The emergency surgery was indeed a success. More surgeries followed, including one to drill a hole in Christian’s third ventricle to insert an IVD to measure brain pressure, the insertion of a port and the insertion of a shunt. “That was four surgeries within 13 days that Christian endured, but he handled it great,” La Tonga said.

Christian started chemotherapy treatment, but after just a few weeks, a scan revealed the tumor had grown. It was then that La Tongna learned that Christian had a fast-growing tumor called a non-germinoma germ cell tumor (NGGCT). “It was heartbreaking that it had grown even after chemo,” La Tongna said. “But Dr. Johnston came and talked with us, and said that the best course of action at that point was to go in and remove the tumor. So that’s what we did.”

After a nine-hour surgery, Dr. Johnston removed between 70 to 80 percent of the tumor, which was hard, sticky and difficult. “But he reassured me that it was OK and that we just needed to let it sit for a few days and then do a second surgery to try to get the rest of the tumor out,” La Tongna said. “That second surgery went much smoother. He had no problems getting every last little bit of the tumor out.”

After seven surgeries, six rounds of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation, Christian’s scans and labwork show normal levels, and he is expected to stay in remission. He hopes to get back to playing sports, specifically basketball and soccer, and he’s anxious to get back to school.

“He has handled this journey so well. His spirit is what has kept us going,” La Tongna said. “He would comfort us that with each surgery God was going to take care of him and that he was going to be fine. That combined with the support and prayers of family and friends got us through. And, of course, everyone at Children’s – Dr. Johnston, Dr. Jacob Lepard and Dr. Elizabeth Alva along with all of the other doctors, nurses and staff were amazing.”