Benefit planned May 20 for Worthington boy undergoing treatment for glioma

Emmitt Gonzalez had a golf ball-sized tumor removed from the back of his brain on Jan. 25. The mass was cancerous, a high-grade glioma.

Melissa and Adrian Gonzalez, Worthington, are shown with their children, Eliana (from left), Everly and Emmitt. A benefit in honor of Emmitt is planned May 20 At The Barn.
Melissa and Adrian Gonzalez, Worthington, are shown with their children, Eliana (from left), Everly and Emmitt. A benefit in honor of Emmitt is planned May 20 At The Barn.
Photo courtesy Brianna Lien-Onsy/LO Photography

WORTHINGTON — A benefit is planned for four-year-old Emmitt Gonzalez, son of Melissa and Adrian Gonzalez, from 4 to 7 p.m. May 20, at The Barn, 1815 East Ave., Worthington.

The evening includes a meal of smoked pulled pork sandwiches, one side and bars for a free-will donation, as well as a silent auction, hosted by friends and coworkers of the family.

Melissa is a registered nurse in the surgical unit at Sanford Worthington Medical Center, and Adrian works in the engineering department at Bedford Industries.

Their son, Emmitt, underwent surgery on Jan. 25 to remove a golf ball-sized mass from the cerebellum, at the back of his brain. The surgery went well, and the mass that was removed was sent off for testing. Nearly a month later, on Feb. 20, Melissa received a call informing her that the mass was cancerous — a high-grade glioma, which is rare, particularly in children.

In the months since, Emmitt has received radiation and chemotherapy treatments at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. His last treatment was May 1, and his first follow-up appointment is scheduled in three weeks.


As a result of Emmitt’s treatments, Melissa and Adrian have alternated weeks away from work to take their son to Rochester for the five consecutive days of treatments. They have missed work, used up vacation days and requested family medical leave to be with Emmitt. And, while they were able to stay at the Ronald McDonald House in Rochester during the weeks of treatment, there were added expenses.

Emmitt’s road to diagnosis began in mid-January, when the normally active little boy began to complain of headaches. About that time, one of his sisters had a double ear infection, so the doctor thought it might be something viral.

“We went home and, toward the weekend, he continued to complain of headaches,” shared Melissa. “He would cry and moan in pain. It was very unusual for him. He would hold the back of his head.”

That weekend, Emmitt began vomiting and his parents took him in for medical treatment.

“We probably took him in three times in a week and a half,” Melissa said. “He progressively got worse over a short period of time.”

Additional tests were ordered, including blood work and a CT scan.

“Before the blood work even came back, they noticed there was something on the scan — there was a mass,” Melissa said. “I think … as with us, nobody thinks brain tumor. You think that as a last resort.”

The thought was the tumor’s location had blocked off some of the spinal fluid, which caused Emmitt’s headaches.


Dr. Bassel Bardan, Emmitt’s pediatrician at Avera in Worthington, consulted with Sanford Children’s Hospital in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, following the Jan. 24 CT scan, and by that afternoon, Emmitt was admitted into the pediatric intensive care unit there.

Melissa took Emmitt to Sioux Falls, while Adrian, who was on a work-related trip in Colorado, needed to make the three-hour drive to Denver for a flight to Sioux Falls.

“Bedford found me a flight at 5 p.m. straight to Sioux Falls,” Adrian said. “My boss picked me up at the (Sioux Falls) airport and took me straight to the hospital.”

The next morning, on Jan. 25, Emmitt had an MRI for exact imaging, and then surgery to remove the mass. The operation, from start to finish, took about three hours — less than what Melissa and Adrian were told to expect.

Emmitt remained hospitalized for six days, four and a half of which were spent in the ICU. A day after the surgery, another MRI was performed. In all, he had three MRIs during his stay in the pediatric ICU, and because of his age he had to be sedated for each test.

“Overall, he did really well,” Melissa said. “It took a while for his gait and motor control to come back. He really progressed well and did well.”

When the call came on Feb. 20 that the mass was cancerous, Emmitt was referred to the pediatric oncology unit at the Sanford Castle in Sioux Falls. They met with an oncologist there in early March.

“She wasn’t really sure what to do moving forward because it’s such an aggressive cancer,” Melissa shared. Ultimately, the oncologist reached out to St. Jude, and a week later, Mayo reached out to the Gonzalez family with a treatment plan.


Emmitt would undergo 30 radiation treatments and oral chemotherapy.

“Because he is only four and the location of the tumor, the best was to do the proton beam radiation,” Melissa said, adding that the beam can be set to a specific depth and width.

“It’s more specific to where the tumor is, rather than impacting the entire brain,” added Adrian.

Since neither Worthington nor Sioux Falls have the proton beam radiation technology, the treatments would need to take place in Rochester.

Emmitt spent a week at Mayo before treatment began, during which they made a radiation mask for him, did another MRI to map the treatment location and attached a PIC line in his chest.

Each radiation treatment took approximately 20 minutes, but with the prep and post-treatment ritual it took about 1.5 hours each day, Monday through Friday, for six weeks.

Emmitt is now in the midst of his four-week break following treatment, and will return to Mayo in three weeks to meet with the hematologist and oncologist.

While Adrian said Emmitt received the most effective type of treatment, Melissa said with glioma, it’s not usually if it will come back, but when.


“Usually they see regrowth in two to three years,” she said. “The treatment is to slow progression and delay it from coming back sooner.”

Glioma is rare in children, and is more typically found in adults aged 60 and older.

“That’s why the treatment options that are out there … there’s not enough evidence and research (in children) to have a definitive action plan,” Melissa said.

Adrian said his son has handled the treatments pretty well. Emmitt has had a few bouts of nausea and vomiting, but it’s been few and far between.

Their stay at the Ronald McDonald House in Rochester has been a blessing in more ways than just financial. The house has activities planned every night, and Melissa and Adrian are able to be with other parents of children hospitalized at Mayo for a myriad of reasons.

“It makes it feel definitely less lonely,” Melissa said. “It’s interesting to hear their stories and what they’re going through. They’re going through some of the same things you are.”

While Melissa and Adrian have alternated trips to Rochester with Emmitt, their family and friends, coworkers and community residents have offered help wherever they can.

“We’ve had people reach out with money and gift cards, prayers and emotional support,” Melissa said.


“It’s really hard to express how thankful we are,” added Adrian.

Their daughters, Eliana, 6, and Everly, 20 months, have spent more time with grandparents during Emmitt’s treatment, and Melissa said Eliana’s teacher, Tracy Remme, has been a tremendous support after having gone through cancer treatment with her son.

“We want to thank everyone for their outpouring of love and support, prayers and donations,” the Gonzalezes said.

Among the items included in the silent auction fundraiser are a three-day stay at Great Wolf Lodge, numerous gift cards, a trampoline, indoor/outdoor bench, quilt, afghan, kids toys and games, and an array of gift baskets.

In addition to the May 20 fundraising benefit, donations to the family may be dropped off or mailed to American Bank and Trust, 724 Oxford St., Worthington. Please note that the donation is for the Emmitt Gonzalez Medical Expense Fund.

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Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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