ABRA helps make dream of a game room a reality for Tyler Purohit; positive distractions help 11-year-old boy beat the odds of brain tumor
by Jim Boyle
When 11-year-old Tyler Purohit’s brain cancer diagnosis was handed to him and his family this past February, the doctor softened the blow with a silver lining of sorts.
“I want you to focus on what I’m about to tell you,” the doctor said. “I want you to think big and think selfish.”
While the news of a brain tumor swirled in his and his parents’ heads, Purohit was told about the Make-A-Wish Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to granting wishes to terminally ill children.
The recipients of these gifts often choose adventurous trips to faraway destinations, ones they have perhaps always dreamed about. But it was a stretch for Purohit to think about just himself.
“He doesn’t have a selfish bone in his body,” said Jewels Purohit, Tyler’s stepmother.
He chose to have an at-home game room installed in his St. Michael home.
ABRA Auto Body and Glass in Elk River got behind the effort with the support of its owners, its employees and even the insurance companies that work with them to get boats back on the lake and automobiles back on the road.
The game room came complete with gaming systems and big screen TV’s to connect himself not only with his two brothers, Niki and Joffrey who live with him, but it also links them to Trevor, his adult brother who now calls Fargo, N.D. home. The miles between them don’t matter, because the computer games bring them together in battle. For Purohit and his siblings it’s a chance for respite from the biggest battle of his life.
He has an inoperable brain tumor that brought on intermittent headaches and nausea. The headaches came in the mornings and faded as the day went along.
The family thought it could be new glasses he got, a bump on the head coming off a bus or an inherited trait of migraines that runs in the family. He celebrated his 11th birthday with friends and family the Saturday after Valentine’s Day this year. But after a third consecutive headache that following Friday morning, Manoj and Jewels Purohit decided to take him to see his pediatrician, Dr. Catherine Nguyen, at Park Nicollet in Maple Grove.
Doctors there reacted with life-saving swiftness. The fact that this seemingly healthy boy was waking up with headaches alarmed the pediatrician. She had an on-staff eye doctor look at Tyler to see what was going on behind his eyes. The bulging tumor necessitated more testing the next day.
A 45-minute MRI at Abbott Northwestern confirmed doctors’ suspicions. He had a tumor. The following day a shunt was put in to drain the tumor at Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis. Purohit has a rare form of cancer called stage 4 glioblastoma.
“We were so blessed to have the medical team we did,” Jewels said, referring to Dr. Nguyen; Dr. Mahmoud Nagib, Tyler’s world-renowned neurosurgeon; and his oncologist, Dr. Anne E. Bendel.
Tyler knows all too well what cancer can do. He lost his mother, Laura, to a rare form of cancer in 2006. She had a small cell cancer that manifested itself in her nasal cavity.
Her cancer and Tyler’s cancer are unrelated, but the fight against this nemesis brought back a rush of memories and a familiar routine.
Thirty-three sessions of radiation and chemotherapy were completed first.
In between the initial therapy and the beginning of maintenance treatments, Manoj and Jewels married, and the Purohits became complete again.
Now Tyler’s in the second half of a year-long stretch of maintenance chemotherapy that is part of a clinical trial. The family keeps of calendar of medications and what time they must be taken. Alarms help too, but 90 percent of the time it’s Tyler coming to remind his stepmother and father he needs to take them.
The tubing from his shunt causes extreme pain at times, but he endures it with amazing strength.
The opportunity to focus on the creation of the game room was a nice distraction. It got his mind off his illness. It has helped him keep up on his studies at home and he is now once again attending school full time.
ABRA chose Make-A-Wish for its ability to funnel dollars right to a child in such a precarious situation. Danyell Wendland, the general manager of the body shop helped choose Make-A-Wish and coordinate some of the fundraising efforts. “My heart goes out to these kids,” she said.
Doctors are pleased with Tyler’s progress to date. “He’s beating it,” Manoj says. That has been Tyler’s deepest wish. In fact, this young boy who’s never been prone to swear has been allowed one tiny discretion in the face of this devilish disease.
“I’m going to kick this tumor’s ass,” he says with the conviction of a defensive end in the National Football League. Despite his small frame, Tyler’s winning attitude seems to be working so far. This Minnesota Vikings fan has the support of Jared Allen and the Minnesota Vikings, who he’s had a chance to meet.
The tumor did not affect his speech or physical abilities, as they often do. He’s now gaining weight again. And he’s working on his hand-eye coordination and exercising his brain in his game room.
He enjoys the big screen television, the gaming keyboard and the camera he got from Make-A-Wish, but he hasn’t let these affect his studies. He finished on the A honor roll this past spring and continues to score well at St. Michael Albertville East, where he is a sixth-grade student.
He also chronicles his experiences with cancer. He’s even put his journal entries and photos in PowerPoint. Someday, he’d like to publish his work to serve as a help to other cancer patients who are enduring what he has already gone through.
“I’m sure he has a couple books in him,” Jewels said.
Just being a kid is a big part of his personal treatment. He gets that in his game room when he takes on his brothers.
His parents also try to give him a boost every now and again with a special occasion. He first met with Jared Allen at a Christian athletes’ fund-raiser and later met with him again and the rest of the Minnesota Vikings.
Allen, a fellow gamer, made quite an impact when he got down to Tyler’s level and said he’s just another guy.
Jewels also lined up a chance to drive a tank in Kasota, Minn. that was featured on a WCCO news report.
Tyler flashed his characteristic smile for the camera and talked about the experience that gave him a chance to grow his appreciation of his father and other veterans who have served in the armed forces.
Christmas, of course, is up next for the young boy. He’s busy this season saying thanks to all the people who have come to his aid and are helping him beat the odds.
That includes his neighbors who have brought the family meals and done other things to help in the Purohits’ time of need. ABRA’s efforts are another shining example.
“You’re surrounded by support and have an angel above,” Jewels said as she and Manoj looked at Tyler with loving adoration.