Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt
Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt
Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt
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Monroe Carell Jr.
Children's Hospital
at Vanderbilt
2200 Children's Way
Nashville, TN 37232

(615) 936-1000

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Meet Nate

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Nate Nowicki is a pretty typical teenager, easygoing and friendly. He's always been physically active, finding passion in sports, especially baseball and football.

The 15-year-old, from White House, Tenn., is a stealth lineman on his high school football team. He stands ready in his stance on the line of scrimmage to defend for his team, wearing a specially designed helmet with a shield to keep him safe.

Behind that shield is Nate's story. He is blind in one eye.

In late winter 2007, Nate started seeing spots in the vision of his right eye. An ophthalmologist assured his family he was fine.

But Nate, 11 at the time, wasn't fine. About a month later, he was admitted for emergency surgery at Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt to have a large, benign brain tumor removed.

His parents, Jeanne and Kurt Nowicki, barely had time to process what was happening. How did they get from an eye exam one minute to brain surgery the next?

About three weeks after the initial eye exam, where the ophthalmologist found no problems, Nate got hit in the eye with a baseball during a little league game. His eye turned black. The spots in his vision got worse.  The Nowickis decided to go to a specialist, a neuro-ophthalmologist. It was March 14, 2007.

"As soon as the doctor saw him, he could immediately see the brain tumor when he dilated his pupils," Jeanne said. "It was just a total shock. Nate asked if he was going to die."

Nate had a large tumor as well as three other small tumors, inoperable because of their location.  He was admitted the same day of his diagnosis. The next day, his parents waited 10 hours as doctors removed the largest of the tumors.

"Everything happened so fast, it's pretty much been a blur," said Jeanne.

After surgery, Nate lost sight in his right eye. The tumor was located near the optic nerve.

Rod, an Emergency Department nurse, kept Nate and the rest of the family going, Jeanne said. He offered comfort.

"He was amazing with Nate," she said. "He even came up after the surgery to check on him. We were really thankful to have good nurses and really good attendings."

Nate still has to go back once a year to have an MRI to check to size of the other tumors. So, far everything is status quo. The three remaining tumors have not changed. Doctors do not know what caused them. Jeanne said she tries not to think about it. "Our faith is very strong," she said. "It is out of our control. You have to leave it to God."

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