Oklahoma boy walks again after aggressive brain tumor

OKLAHOMA CITY - It is a moment of pure joy. 5-year-old Eli Owze of Spencer, Oklahoma is taking his first steps after brain surgery.

His family watches, beaming, while a nurse gives him a high five.

The fact that Eli would ever walk again is nothing short of a miracle, but to understand that we need to rewind.

"I can't describe it. Just pain," says Eli's mother, Kenya Owze, remembering the confusion when Eli became sick and couldn't walk straight after a hot day at the zoo. They quickly took him to the hospital when he didn't recover. "They said something is just not right, but we can't put our finger on it."

His dad, Eric adds "He had his head tilted, and kind of stagger walking, he couldn't walk straight and the hospital staff said let's do more tests."

The results were shocking. Medulloblastoma, an aggressive brain tumor.

Immediate surgery was necessary, but what was supposed to take five or six hours stretched beyond eight hours.

Kenya remembers the surgeon coming out and telling them "he had a skull the thickness of a 16-year old, it took two and a half hours just to cut through skull to get to his brain!"

Dr. Abhishek Bavle from Jimmy Everest Cancer Center explains how risky that surgery is. "One in four children who have this tumor with this surgery, when they come out they might not be able to talk at all, not be able to swallow, basic things like eating and drinking."

In Eli's case, he was eating shortly after surgery and showed other signs of a quick remarkable recovery of his motor skills.

This was despite the fact he also had to undergo extensive proton radiation therapy to his brain, and the strongest chemotherapy treatment a child can receive.

It's all aimed at preventing his tumor from returning.

The Owzes say their medical team has been great.

"They've answered whatever questions I've ever had" said Kenya.

Dr. Bavle adds "Eli is also like his parents, very positive, great sense of humor, quick to smile and laugh even in the toughest of times."

Eli just wants to get back to the things he loves.

"I want to wrestle with my brother" he says with slightly halting speech, a speech effect he is getting therapy to correct.

Because Eli's brain was subjected to so much radiation, it will compromise his brain's ability to develop.

That is one of the most difficult choices for brain tumors, is deciding just how aggressively to treat it so that tumors do not return.

Learning to form words, to walk, to play are things Eric and his family no longer take for granted.

During a recent trip to the Oklahoma Science Museum, he ditched his wheelchair to enjoy the feeling of walking and even climbing.

He's feeling stronger, and enjoyed sitting on a chair that he could raise by pulling on a rope.

His parents encourage him, chanting "Pull, pull!"

This close loving family is pulling for their 5-year-old boy, and so is his team of doctors and nurses at Jimmy Everest Center for Cancer.

If you'd like to help children like Eli fight cancer, consider donating to JECFriends.org

'Kids with Courage' is sponsored by the Jimmy Everest Center.