It's been a whirlwind last few days for Tanner Geatz, a sophomore at Crookston High School, and his family. But it's the good kind of whirlwind.
After seemingly countless medical tests and evaluations and consultations with numerous physicians trained in various specialties and diagnoses, Geatz is still officially afflicted with "chiari malformation," his mom, Nora, told the Times. But, in what she's calling an early Christmas gift, her son in January will not need to undergo surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, a dicey procedure Tanner and his family have spent the past few weeks bracing for.
That was the good news the family returned to Crookston with earlier this week, after four days at Mayo Clinic. The positive vibes and early Christmas gifts kept on coming Tanner's way on Thursday in the CHS auditorium, where he ripped red wrapping paper off a box and opened it up to find a Crookston Pirates letterman's jacket, purchased for him by the new "Friends of Rachel Club" at the high school.
So what's chiari malformation? Without getting too technical, it involves a young person's brain continuing to grow in normal fashion, but the person's skull stops growing. It leads to undue pressure on the brain, and in some cases can actually lead to the brain being pushed down toward the spinal column.
Tanner hadn't been feeling right in recent months, Nora said. He'd wake up in the morning and feel like one arm was on fire. Then the next morning, his other arm would be numb, or maybe it would just hurt real bad. There were headaches and nausea. He was overly tired, and he coughed a lot.
Visits to various physicians eventually led to the chiari malformation diagnosis, and surgery was scheduled for January. It would have involved cutting a piece of skull off the back of Tanner's head and replacing it with a piece of mesh-like fabric. There was no guarantee that Tanner would have come through the surgery with 100 percent functionality; for example, he might not have had full use of one arm. An athlete who's supposed to be skating with the Pirate hockey team right now, his days of playing sports would likely have been over no matter how the surgery went. "They said one wrong hit and he could die," Nora said.
Tanner spent a day with a pediatrician at Mayo earlier this month, who gave him a "total once over" with tests of his senses and strength, etc. Mayo staff spent the past couple of weeks going over the results of all the tests, and when a bone specialist was brought to the table, things started to take a turn for the better.
Page 2 of 2 - "They found he has a cracked rib, in his first rib, which is kind of under his collarbone," Nora said. That's the apparent cause of Tanner's arm issues. "There are lots of symptoms of chiari malformation, but having arm issues isn't one of them, so that never made sense to the doctors down there," Nora continued. "We saw the surgeon and he said all his tests came back 100 percent good."
Tanner's not 100 percent in the clear, however. He still suffers from the malformation, after all, and his mom said he will be monitored by doctors and he'll likely have an MRI done once a year get a detailed look at how he's doing. But in the meantime, she said, he's been told that after giving his rib a month or so to heal, he can resume a normal high school kid's life, including athletics.
Jacket F.O.R. Tanner
Now, about that letterman's jacket...
The late Rachel Scott, the first victim of the 1999 Columbine High School shootings, has spurred a nationwide initiative in schools known as "Rachel's Challenge." It's taken hold at CHS, first with Rachel's Challenge, followed by "Rachel's Legacy" initiatives. The latest manifestation of the service/good deeds effort is the "Friends of Rachel" club, or F.O.R.
When club members got word of Tanner's plight a few weeks ago, school counselor Jackie Robertson told the Times, they sprung into action and launched a fund-raiser to buy him a letterman's jacket. It didn't take long to raise the $245, Robertson said.
Thursday morning, during the daily, abbreviated "Prime Time" period at the high school, the F.O.R. Club summoned Tanner to the auditorium, where the red box was waiting for him on stage.
"I think he was quietly touched," Robertson said.
After opening the jacket and trying it on, Tanner thanked everyone for their gesture, and then everyone gathered around him for a photo.
The club has around 100 members, from seventh graders to seniors, and is dedicated to spreading Rachel Scott's message of "kindness, acceptance and compassion," Robertson explained. "They've been so excited to give Tanner his jacket."
"You can't believe how we feel about everything that's happened," Nora said. "It's just been a roller-coaster and we've been scared to death. But now, it's just wonderful, for Tanner to not have to have surgery and now the kids giving him that jacket? What a gift...what a gift."