Fall at school leads to discovery of boy's tumor

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A bump on the head at school led doctors to the discovery of a brain tumor in an otherwise healthy 12-year-old. His doctors and parents knew they had a long road ahead of them, but a new kind of radiation therapy might make all the difference.

Now, 12-year-old Zayne Burton steps into the radiation treatment room at Orlando Health Hospital five days a week.

"I say it's like something from Star Wars," Zane said, smiling.

For each treatment, Zane wears a specially fitted, bright red, hard mesh mask, which helps the computer system direct high energy proton beams to specific areas of his brain.

He is the first pediatric patient to receive proton therapy in the center, which opened its doors less than a month before Zane's cancer diagnosis. The center is one of three in Florida, and 21 in the country, offering the treatment. 

"How amazing is this, that this treatment is available right here in our city and we're able to benefit from it? Literally, they just barely got it in the room," Zane's father, Chaz said.

Zayne and his family learned he had cancer after that fall at school in February 2016. After being diagnosed with a mild concussion, he began complaining about double vision and headaches. When the emergency room doctor was reading Zayne's CAT scan, it was clear that something was really wrong.

"Your heart rate is going because you’re like, 'this does not seem normal,'" Chaz recalled.

Zayne's mother, Lori remembered thinking, "So we sat down and the ER, [the] doctor began to tell us he had a two-inch mass on his brain, and just all these emotions start flooding."

Zayne's tumor, a medulloblasatoma, was putting pressure on the nerve in Zayne's eye. He would need immediate surgery.

"It's like being in a horror movie in slow motion," Chaz said.

Inside the treatment area, Zayne's radiation oncologist, Naren Ramakrishna said, unlike traditional radiation, protons target the cancer, sparing healthy surrounding tissues.

"We shape the outside of the beam and we also shape the intensity of the beam using various thicknesses of material that we place in the beam path, so the shape of the final dose conforms to the tumor," explained Dr. Ramakrishna.

Chaz said early in Zayne's treatments, the radiation stimulated a nerve in his brain, causing him to imagine unpleasant smells and making him sick.

"It was so hard for us, as parents, to go in there and try to comfort him when you know he'd like to be done," he explained.

Those side effects are now gone, and with just eight more treatments to go, the family is happy to be in the home stretch.

"We're thankful we have a fight to fight," said Lori.