BAXTER -- Alex Eggert may only be 3, but the Baxter boy has endured more surgeries and invasive medical procedures than most adults do in a lifetime.
While Alex has become understandably apprehensive around doctors and nurses -- people who are required to poke him with needles and administer his radiation and chemotherapy treatment -- he remains an easy-going preschooler who loves his 9-month-old sister, Katlyn, whom he calls "Baby Girl."
Alex's parents, Tom and Heidi Eggert, were upset to learn their first-born child was born with a cleft lip and cleft palate, two common birth defects, not knowing that a worse diagnosis lie ahead for their young son.
A cleft lip occurs when the tissues of the upper jaw and nose do not join as expected during fetal development, resulting in a split lip. A cleft palate is a birth defect in which the roof of the mouth does not develop as it should during pregnancy, leaving an opening that may go through to the nasal cavity. Until it is treated through a series of corrective surgeries, a cleft palate can interfere with feeding, speech development and hearing.
Heidi (left) and Tom Eggert sat with their two children, Alex, 3, and Katlyn, 9 months, in their Baxter home. For the past two months Heidi has spent the week in Minneapolis with Alex as their son underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments and Tom stayed home with Katlyn.
Brainerd Dispatch/Nels Norquist
Alex underwent a series of operations for cleft lip and cleft palate, beginning at 2 months of age. He had his latest lip surgery in April and after that surgery, Alex began to fall down a lot and lose his balance. He also began to lose his appetite. The little boy was referred to a pediatric neurologist who diagnosed him with pressure behind his eyes. A head CT scan in May revealed Alex had a baseball-sized tumor in his cerebellum and hydrocephalus, or fluid on the brain.
The tumor is a stage 4 cancer called medulloblastoma, a disease where cancer cells form in the tissue of the brain.
He was immediately admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit at Children's Hospital in Minneapolis and underwent a four-hour surgery the next day, May 29, to remove the tumor. A shunt was implanted permanently into his brain to drain the excess fluid.
As of Wednesday, Alex completed 30 radiation therapy treatments. Since the radiation treatments were strong and required sedation, Alex had to have the treatments at Children's Hospital in Minneapolis. For the past two months, he and his mom, Heidi, stayed at the Ronald McDonald House near Children's Hospital during the week and would return to Baxter on weekends. His grandmas, Harriet Mouw, Longville, and Joy Eggert, Deerwood, also took turns spending time at the hospital with Alex and Heidi. The situation meant the Eggerts lived like single parents, with Katlyn living with Tom in Baxter and Heidi caring for Alex in Minneapolis.
If you go
A pancake breakfast benefit is planned for 8:30 a.m. until 1 p.m. Aug. 15 at the Longville Fire Station for Alex Eggert, the 3-year-old son of Tom and Heidi Eggert of Baxter. Alex was diagnosed with brain cancer and has been undergoing chemotherapy and radiation at Children's Hospital in Minneapolis.
The benefit, organized by the Longville Fire Department and Salem Lutheran Church in Longville, will help the Eggerts with Alex's medical expenses.
Matching funds are being provided by Thrivent Financial, Hubbard and Cass County Chapter No. 31305.
Monetary donations for the family may be sent to Woodland Bank, Attn: Alicia Burgers, P.O. Box 190, Remer, MN 56672.
People interested in keeping updated about Alex may visit the family's Web site at www.caringbridge.org/mn/alexeggert.
"One of the hardest things is to split the family, to not be together," said Heidi Eggert.
Alex will soon start chemotherapy. Treatments could last 1-1/2 years with one day stays every six weeks at Children's Hospital.
"He's gone through more than any of us would dream of doing," said his mom.
Heidi said doctors were able to remove 99 percent of Alex's brain tumor and they have told the family he has an 85 percent cure rate. A spinal tap revealed no cancer cells in his spinal fluid, which is a good sign that the cancer hasn't spread.
Because the Eggerts need to minimize Alex's chances of getting sick, he wasn't able to enroll in Early Childhood Family Education this year like they had planned before the cancer was discovered.
Alex lost his light brown hair two weeks ago, but it hasn't bothered him much to lose his hair, his parents said. His little sister likes to kiss his bald head, they added. Alex loves the "Shrek" movies and the television show, "Bob the Builder." He enjoys playing outside and playing with trucks.
Tom works at Mills GM while Heidi started a new job at BISYS just a few weeks before Alex was diagnosed with brain cancer. It required her to take a leave of absence. She plans to return to work this week.
A pancake breakfast benefit to help the Eggert family with medical expenses is planned for 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Aug. 15 at the Longville Fire Hall in Longville.
Alex is the grandson of Rod and Harriet Mouw, Longville, and Tom and Joy Eggert, Deerwood.
JODIE TWEED can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5858.
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