Crossing the finish line of the Chicago Marathon at four hours and three minutes normally would have been a major milestone in itself for John Mordach. But finishing the 26.2-mile race on October 11 wasn’t just about achieving a personal first for the 50-year-old; it was about sharing in a struggle with his teenage son, who only five months earlier had to undergo emergency surgery for a brain tumor.
Before learning of his son’s condition, Mordach had been training for the marathon, his first. But then, headaches that had plagued his oldest son John Jr. worsened. A star swimmer who competed on his high school’s varsity team, John, Jr. had suffered headaches and episodes of nausea for about two years ago, but the Mordachs didn’t think much of it.
"We have four children, and anybody who is a parent knows that children have all sorts of symptoms – especially during their teen years when they are dealing with the stress of adolescence, schoolwork and athletics," Mordach said. "We had his vision tested and took him to see a gastroenterologist to rule out some of the more common conditions, and felt mostly reassured when the tests didn’t reveal any problems."
When the headaches became debilitating the week before Memorial Day, the Mordachs brought their son to Edward Hospital in Naperville where Mordach is the chief financial officer, and were stunned when physicians told them that John Jr. had a two-inch-by-two-inch tumor in his brain.
"No parents should ever have to experience the feelings of fear and anxiety that consumed us," Mordach said.
Before joining Edwards Hospital, Mordach worked for the University of Chicago Medicine from 1997 to 2006 as vice president of finance and knew the hospital has earned top recognition for its neurology and neurosurgery program. Wanting the best care for his son, he scheduled an appointment right away with David Frim, MD, PhD, chief of neurosurgery at the University of Chicago.
Frim concurred with the brain tumor diagnosis and admitted John Jr. to the University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children’s Hospital that day. The next day, John Jr. went through a full-body MRI lasting three and a half hours to determine whether the tumor had spread. It had not. The next day, Frim performed a six-and-a-half hour surgery on John Jr. to remove as much of the tumor as he could.
"The absolute pinnacle of hopelessness for a parent is watching your son being rolled into surgery," Mordach said. "Carol and I were extremely anxious and did a lot of praying for God’s help."
Several days later, the Mordachs learned that the tumor, a choroids plexus papilloma, was benign. Choroid plexus papillomas, which account for less than 3 percent of pediatric brain tumors, are almost always benign, but can result in serious complications by blocking cerebrospinal fluid and causing increased pressure in the skull.