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Paxton and his parents, Tasha Licence and Ryan Brummund. Paxton began having symptoms like a runny nose and watery eyes around his first birthday. After his symptoms worsened, a brain scan revealed a large tumor in the back of his brain and along the brainstem. Submitted photo

Staying strong for Paxton; Toddler’s parents, Perham community pray and hope for the little ‘Superman’ struggling with brain tumor

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“I felt something was wrong,” said Tasha Licence. “Something was hurting in his head.”

The Perham woman’s son, 20-month-old Paxton Brummund, started having odd symptoms around the time of his first birthday.

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At first, it wasn’t anything completely out of the ordinary – a runny nose and watery eyes.

“We took him to the doctor several times,” said Tasha, only to be told to wait it out – it was a cold.

As the symptoms continued, the diagnosis was changed to allergies. The medication seemed to help for a while, Tasha said, but then it got worse.

“He would walk around and eat with his eyes closed,” she said. “Some days he was kind of off balance and really sleepy, other days he was just fine. Right before the last visit we had at the Perham clinic, he not only started the persistent scratching at his right ear, but he was also holding his head at a tilt to the left.”

Little “Superman” earned his nickname early on after meeting milestones way ahead of his time, size, strength and generally being “kind of amazing,” said Tasha. 

At that time, no one knew this little superhero would take on a fight of such magnitude, with such determination.

On March 31, over six months after the symptoms began, a different doctor decided to send Paxton to a hospital in Fargo for a CT scan of his head.

“When I got there, the doctor on call was going to send me home. He didn’t feel that imaging was necessary,” Tasha said. “I got very angry because we had been sent away too many times.”

Ultimately, persistence and mother’s intuition paid off. That scan, and an MRI the next day, revealed a large tumor growing on the back side of Paxton’s brain and on the brain stem.

Since then, Paxton, Tasha and Ryan Brummund, Paxton’s father, have been thrown into a constant whirlwind of medical tests, opinions and setbacks – with family, friends and the community helping wherever possible along the way.

“In Fargo, we were told that it (the tumor) was inoperable, and there was no real treatment to help him,” Tasha said.

But they didn’t accept that.

They took Paxton to doctors at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and those doctors decided that surgery was possible.

On April 4, 65 percent of the tumor was removed during an operation. The remaining 35 percent was on the front of the brainstem – unreachable.

“He’s had just about every possible complication since the day of surgery happen, and yet he has come through it,” said Tasha.

During the surgery, Paxton suffered a small stroke, leaving him unable to cough or swallow and his right side somewhat paralyzed. He needed to be re-intubated, and then had a tracheostomy.

Several days after surgery, Paxton developed compartment syndrome in his abdomen, damaging his small intestine. Until the repairs heal, he can only be fed through IV fluids.

He also developed bacterial meningitis, which will likely require antibiotics for the rest of his life.

As if the difficulties his body was having weren’t enough, one of Paxton’s machines malfunctioned, as well.

“He was overdosed with ten times the amount of blood pressure medication,” Tasha said. “He had to be revived with (chest) compressions and a large amount of drugs to reverse what was done.”

Now, the family has learned that the tumor, which was diagnosed as a non-malignant, grade 1 Pilocytic Astrocytoma, is still growing. Paxton has started low-dose chemotherapy that should continue for a year.

Despite everything that has happened, the family’s positivity is neverending.

“We are just so grateful for the good in people and how wonderful and supportive they have been of us,” Tasha said. “We could not be this strong and keep going without everyone we have behind us. We never imagined so many people would reach out, help us and think of our sweet little boy.”

Family members have been with Ryan and Tasha constantly. Friends maintain a “Stay Strong for Paxton” page on Facebook, organize “super prayers” that involve the entire community, and held a benefit in April.

“Arvig, who I work for, has gone above and beyond what I could have ever imagined with helping us out,” Tasha added.

Paxton’s tiny moments of strength have become highlights: a smile, opening his eyes and reaching for his parents, the first time he moved his leg since the stroke and nodding in response to questions.

“Every day, we see him grow so much more and take so many huge steps that, a few weeks ago, we thought we would never see again,” said Tasha. “Just this week, he started tolerating being off a ventilator and breathed on his own when he is awake. He truly amazes me and has such a strong fight for life.”

To follow Paxton’s road to recovery, and eventually back to Perham, visit the “Stay Strong for Paxton” page on Facebook.

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