Max LaPointe is a pretty happy little 6-year-old boy.
He goes to kindergarten at Scout Island’s Nature Kindergarten. He’s curious, talkative, sensitive and has a “big heart,” according to his mom, Melissa LaPointe.
“He has always been a spitfire,” she says.
Just before his sixth birthday, however, Melissa started to notice that “something was up” with Max.
In mid-September, he started to get vertigo.
With a background in pediatrics, Melissa began to investigate what could be wrong — an inner ear infection perhaps.
It was a two-week wait to see the doctor. On Oct. 10, when they went in the main concern was vertigo. They went to a physiotherapist on Oct. 17 where they screened his balance and reflexes and there were no big concerns.
Soon after, Melissa, who wrote down all the symptoms in a journal, noticed Max’s balance was off.
By Halloween, his depth perception and hand-eye co-ordination were off and he was having issues finding words.
“That freaked me out,” says Melissa, “It meant there was something else, something big wrong.”
In the middle of everything, Tolko, where Max’s dad Marc works, caught fire, leaving Marc unemployed.
“It was a blessing in disguise,” says Melissa, adding that Marc being at home has taken a lot of pressure off of worrying about Max.
By the next week, however, Max seemed to get better.
“During the day he was doing well, he was eating well, he was sleeping well. He was the most happy child.”
On Nov. 9, they had their appointment with the pediatrician, who said Max should get an MRI done. In the meantime, they would have his hearing and vision tested.
B.C. Children’s Hospital, however, had a two-year wait list for an MRI, and because Max needed to be sedated during the scan, MRIs in Prince George and Kamloops wouldn’t take the risk of sedating a young child.
The pediatrician then scheduled a CT scan.
For Max’s part, he was enjoying himself.
“He thought this was all awesome. I’d been telling him there are pictures they are going to take of your brain, we are going to get your hearing tested, and he’s like: ‘Mom, this is so cool. I’m going to study science till my brain explodes.’”
On Nov. 21 he went in for a vision test. After the test, the optometrist said there was something. They repeated the test with pupil dilating drops.
“It didn’t take her long to say, ‘OK, we have a big deal actually,” says Melissa. The doctor had noticed swelling in Max’s optic nerve.
“At that point, it went from urgent to emergency.”
From that moment on, things moved at lightning speed.
The next day, Max went in for a CT scan at 11:30 a.m.
The results were immediate. The parents were told to go home, and pack and that the pediatrician would be giving them a call.
Max had a tumour on his cerebellum and the resulting fluid build up was putting pressure on the rest of his brain.
The family would be heading to Vancouver immediately, and were told that Max would likely be having an operation that evening.
“That was hard,” says Melissa.
“We all did really well in keeping it together in front of Max. That was our goal for everyone. Let’s stay strong and optimistic and curious around Max, and then we lose it when Max goes to bed or goes out of the room.”
Melissa and Marc went home to pack, in preparation for what could be a long stay in Vancouver.
“We packed the most ridiculous things. My husband packed two big dinosaurs and bathing suits. We didn’t pack a rain coat,” says Melissa with a laugh.
By that evening, Melissa and Max were on a plane to Vancouver, and Marc would make it through on the Trans Canada shortly before the highway was closed because of mudslides.
By the time Melissa checked her phone in Vancouver, her sister was on a plane from Toronto, her brother was on a plane from Montreal, and her mother had a flight booked from Melissa’s hometown in Prince Edward Island.
Staff, Melissa says, were surprised by how well Max was doing.
Max didn’t seem sick.
“Everyone was really confused because they would look at his brain scans and then they would look at him,” says Melissa.
In fact, she says, “Max loved it at the hospital.”
After what Melissa calls compassionate and dedicated care by the staff and doctors at the B.C. Children’s Hospital who were with the family from the plane in Williams Lake to the hospital in Vancouver and through the surgery, three days later Max would be in the operating room in Vancouver.
On the way to the operating room, Max would drive his bed like a car down the hallway.
“No fear, no fear at all,” says Melissa, “He was like ‘OK, let’s do this.’”
In fact, she says, Max’s positivity helped Melissa and Marc keep it together.
“This child has so much life in him,” she says. “We were never worried about losing him, that thought never crossed my mind.”
Despite the scariness of possible side effects, when Melissa and Marc saw Max after the surgery in the ICU, he was already talking.
“He was like, ‘Owie, my head hurts. I need a hug. I’ve been laying on it too long.’”
Despite the happiness of Max coming out of surgery successfully, the family was cognizant of other families who were in the hospital.
“My family cheered but they also felt bad,” says Melissa. “There was a lot of sadness there, so it was hard to celebrate our miracle, but acknowledge there were a lot of families that don’t get their miracle.”
A week later, Max was back in town, and by the start of December — not even two weeks after surgery — Max is back at school.
The tumour was benign, called a pilocytic astrocytoma, and while Max will need to make repeat visits to B.C. Children’s for check- ups, he’s on the road to recovery.
Throughout their stay in Vancouver, Melissa says they were overwhelmed by the support, from both Prince Edward Island and Williams Lake.
Marc’s family drove down the day of Max’s surgery, and his sister cut short a work trip to Ottawa.
Neighbours, family, friends and even people Melissa and Marc didn’t know contributed to a GoFundMe account, raising over $10,000 for the family. Melissa says they plan on using the money to make sure that Max can enjoy the trips to Vancouver, with visits to the aquarium or other fun things.
The support, says Melissa, has made her even more grateful for the small communities she has lived in.
“The world is a scary place, but the love and support just took my breath away,” she says.
“Our little boy has touched a lot of people.”