Doctors remove a tumor from toddler's brain

HASTINGS - Landen Gunderson is a perfectly happy, healthy 18-month-old boy whose only care in the world is that he has a good supply of milk and animal crackers. When he was at a Kohl's store with his mom and grandma one day in early October, how...

HASTINGS - Landen Gunderson is a perfectly happy, healthy 18-month-old boy whose only care in the world is that he has a good supply of milk and animal crackers. When he was at a Kohl's store with his mom and grandma one day in early October, however, he started acting strangely.

"I noticed he was getting tired and acting really lethargic and out of it," Landen's mom and Hastings native Devin Dorschner, said.

So Dorschner did what many new mothers would do, she went to her own mom, Hastings resident Mary Yoswa, for advice. Yoswa told her to bring Landen to the emergency room at Regina hospital to get him checked out.

While he was there, Landen went into a 15-minute seizure on the left side of his body. Though febrile seizures can happen to infants when they're running high fevers, it was still a cause for concern, and they decided to have Landen brought up to Children's Hospital in Minneapolis to have him checked out further.

Landen was transported by Hastings Ambulance to Children's, and his dad, former Hastings resident Dustin Gunderson, rode in the ambulance with him while Dorschner drove there in her car. On the way there, Landen had another seizure, this time lasting for 30 seconds, on the right side of his body.


The doctors at Children's gave him a spinal tap to check for meningitis and they checked him for the flu. Neither of those tests could explain the seizures, so they gave Landen a CAT scan.

The CAT scan showed a spot in Landen's brain that appeared to be abnormal. About 12 hours later, he had another CAT scan so doctors could see if it'd changed in any way. Since there was no change, an MRI was ordered, and that's when Gunderson and Dorschner found out their son had a tumor in his brain.

What followed was 20 days of tests and meetings with several surgeons, neurologists and oncologists.

"It was surreal for those 20 days," Dorschner said. "We didn't believe it yet."

The doctors weren't sure, and still aren't to this day, whether the tumor was an abnormal growth in Landen's brain that grew as he was developing in the womb, or a low-level cancerous tumor, but either way, it had to come out.

So, on Oct. 26, Landen had surgery, one that was supposed to be an eight-hour procedure. After the first round of work, surgeons gave Landen an MRI before stitching him up, and they discovered they hadn't removed all of the tumor, so they went back in a second time. The same thing happened again, and they had to go in a third time, stretching the procedure to 13 hours, from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.

During that time, Dorschner, her mom, Gunderson, and Gunderson's sister sat in a waiting room. Gunderson works nights and had worked the night before the operation before coming right to the hospital, so by the end of it, he'd been up for about 30 hours.

Dorschner said they got a few updates while there, but most of the time, they didn't know what was going on with their son.


"It was just, I don't even know the word for it, we were fidgety, we couldn't concentrate," she said. "All I could do is just tell myself that he was in the best hands he could be in, and this is where he needs to be."

Finally, the surgery was finished and the family was invited to see Landen in a post-operation recovery room, but it's a sight both Dorschner and Gunderson said they wish they'd never seen.

Landen was crying, his head was swollen, the incision was leaking blood and his breathing was raspy from having a breathing tube in his throat during the surgery. And added to all that was the fact they weren't allowed to have any physical contact with him.

"That was the worst part for me," Dorschner said.

Landen was in the pediatric intensive care unit for three days, "maxed out" on a mix of five drugs. Dorschner and Gunderson stayed up late every night with him. Dorschner said she felt like she wanted to do something for him, to comfort him, but she felt helpless as he was healing.

After intensive care, Landen spent another three nights at the hospital in a recovery room; the family had more time with him and nurses only came into the room every so often to give him medicine and check his vital signs.

Today Landen is home, and the future looks encouraging. Doctors are still studying the results of his MRIs and CAT scans and trying to determine whether the tumor was an abnormal growth or a low-level cancer. They want to put a name to it to determine future treatment, Dorschner said.

If it was an abnormal growth, Landen will need just one more MRI to make sure the surgery was successful.


If they determine it was a low-level cancer, he will need MRIs every six months for the next two years, and one a year until he's 10 to make sure it doesn't grow back.

"If that's all we have to deal with, we're pretty lucky," Dorschner said.

The only possible lasting effect from the surgery is that Landen could lose some peripheral vision on one side, but doctors say he's so young, he'll never know the difference.

Dorschner and Gunderson said they had so much support from family, friends, and even people they didn't know, during the ordeal, and they're grateful for that.

Both Dorschner and Gunderson are Hastings High School graduates. In May, they bought a house in Cottage Grove.

What To Read Next
Get Local