After brain surgery, Merrimack Valley freshman takes to the cross country course
Dade Perron, 15, second from right, hi-fives his Merrimack Valley cross country teammates before the start of their final race on Thursday, October 17, 2013. Dade is a freshman at Merrimack Valley Dade, who suffers from venous and cavernous malformations in his right frontal lobe. He has undergone two major brain surgeries in his life, the latest one affecting mobility on the left side of his body.
(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
Denise Perron smiles after seeing her grandson, Dade Perron, 15, emerge from the woods during the last leg of his cross country race for Merrimack Valley on Thursday, October 17, 2013. Dade's brother, Damon Perron is also on the team and ran back on the trail to find Dade and run by his side cheering him on. Dade is a freshman at Merrimack Valley who suffers from venous and cavernous malformations in his right frontal lobe. He has undergone two major brain surgeries in his life, the latest one affecting mobility on the left side of his body.
(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
Dade Perron, 15, left, is cheered on by his brother and teammate, Damon Perron, during their Merrimack Valley cross country race on Thursday, October 17, 2013. Dade is a freshman at Merrimack Valley Dade, who suffers from venous and cavernous malformations in his right frontal lobe. He has undergone two major brain surgeries in his life, the latest one affecting mobility on the left side of his body.
(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
Merrimack Valley freshman Dade Perron was easy to spot Thursday in the mass of hundreds of high school cross country runners at the Capital Area Cross Country Championship.
Donning race No. 524, his stride was long but slightly off balance as he tried to stay with the pack. By mid-course, he’d fallen behind; the white plastic brace he wears on his left leg was creating a painful blister. But he was still running, determined to finish the last 5K of the season.
When he emerged from the woods with less than halfway to go, he’d slowed to a walk. But his brother Damon and a teammate who already finished ran to meet him. They told him to keep pushing; the whole team was waiting farther up the course to create a motivational cheering tunnel. Their shouts of encouragement helped, and when Dade entered the last straightaway of the course, he turned up the pace.
Nothing could have stopped him from crossing that finish line at a run, not the blister, the brace or the brain injury that causes him to wear it.
His foot stepped over the line – 38 minutes on the clock. It was 20 minutes slower than Damon’s time, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that Dade crossed that line less than four months after brain surgery that rendered him temporarily paralyzed in his left leg and arm.
For most of the summer, he was relegated to a wheelchair – when he wasn’t lying in a hospital bed. As of two months ago, he still needed a cane to walk.
On June 25, Dade had surgery to remove a blood clot created by a tangle of veins in his brain that aren’t supposed to be there, called venous malformation of the brain. The surgery greatly weakened the left side of his body, essentially forcing him to spend his summer break relearning how to walk.
With daily therapy and a lot of determination, he was back on his feet in no time, although his left leg is still weak and drags without the brace. He’s joined the high school cross country team just as he’d planned, and Thursday’s race was the second full one he’s completed this season.
“It’s like a loss of words really, I have no idea what he’s going through, to tell you the truth,” Damon said of his younger brother’s medical struggles. “It’s hard to watch, but it’s nice to see him actually get out there and do it. It’s awesome to see him finish that race.”
Although the season is over, Dade is already looking forward to racing again.
“I’m going to go out for track during the spring,” he said after Thursday’s run.
‘A tough kid’
Dade’s parents, Susan and Nelson of Loudon, first learned of Dade’s condition when he was 3. An MRI showed he had a ball of veins in his brain that were causing headaches and seizures. When Dade was 4, the doctors recommended surgery.
When they opened up his brain, that tangle of veins was a bigger mess than they’d anticipated. They took out what they could but warned his parents that Dade might never walk again. When Dade woke up, unable to move the left side of his body, he didn’t speak to anyone for four days.
Luckily Dade regained strength in his left arm and leg. But his life became a constant stream of headaches, occasional seizures, MRIs and brain bleeds. His parents weighed another surgery but held off, knowing that paralysis was always a possible result. They wanted to give Dade the best chance for a “normal” childhood.
But this June, they found themselves without a choice again. Dade had been having headaches and seizures but was determined to make it through his middle school graduation activities. On the first day of summer vacation, he checked into the intensive care unit at Boston Children’s Hospital and an MRI showed a clot almost 3 inches in diameter that was bleeding. Suddenly his summer was filled with CT scans, IV hookups and surgery preparation.
It took about three hours to open Dade’s brain and remove the blood clot and some of the malformations. The surgeons left one portion of the tangled veins for fear that removing it could do further damage to Dade’s left leg. Susan thought back to 10 years earlier when Dade came out of surgery and refused to talk, when he was swollen and pale and couldn’t move.
But when she saw him after surgery, he sat right up and pulled off his blankets. He moved both his left leg and hand, only just a little.
“Simply tears of joy,” she wrote on a blog where she reported Dade’s progress and her own fears and frustrations. “This was more than we had expected so soon after waking up, a few mumbles and grunts of acknowledgement counted as talking.”
On July 2, Dade moved to Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston where he stayed until July 19, and those weeks were filled with accomplishments and setbacks. For several days Dade’s face was so swollen he could barely open his eyes.
Susan stayed at the hospital almost every night while Dade was there. Although she wanted and needed to be by his side, she missed her three other children at home: Damon, Daizey and Diandra. At the time, she was also pregnant with Dreanna, who is now 5 weeks old.
How did she manage it all?
“It’s just trying to balance everything, and it’s something that you always struggle with as a parent anyway,” she said. “Whether it’s going to work and missing a game, or if it’s just trying to take care of one that has a little bit more struggles.”
Dade went home July 19, and the return to normalcy and the constant presence of his siblings helped his recovery. By the beginning of August, he was rarely using his wheelchair, and he stopped using his cane on a regular basis in mid-August.
Cross country camp was coming up at the end of the month, and Dade wanted to be there alongside Damon, even if he wasn’t quite ready.
“He’s a tough kid, anything that somebody says you can’t do it, he does,” Susan said.
Part of the team
Dade chooses his words carefully, and he is humble and unimpressed by his own triumph over challenges.
Was he scared when he learned he needed surgery this summer?
“No,” he said simply.
The pain, the threat of surgery, the weakness in his limbs – this is part of who Dade is; it’s who he’s always been. Better to deal with it than complain. On the cross country team, he’s found a home where people treat him like one of the group.
“We certainly treat him like any other member of the team, and he’d probably say that we give him a hard time; if he forgets his leg brace, or something, he hears about it,” Coach Dave Irving said.
When Dade runs, he has to wear his brace. It goes under his ankle and up the back of his leg to his knee. He wears it over his socks and under black, yellow and blue Brooks running shoes. It keeps his toes from dropping below his ankle, which would cause him to trip. Although it helps him run, Thursday it also created a blister on his foot that burst and bled, creating what Dade’s grandfather jokingly called his very own “Schilling sock,” in reference to former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling’s performance in Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS.
Over the course of the season, Dade’s pace and endurance have improved.
“It’s getting a lot easier to run,” he said. “The first meet I ran in, I only ran a mile.”
His ability to deal with his weak arm and leg has improved, too, and he is going to therapy once a week. His left wrist is still weak and limp, although he can move his fingers a bit. On Thursday, he got up from the orange Gatorade cooler he was sitting on after the race, put his weight on his right leg and took one short hop over to his red duffle bag on the ground. He bent over and fished around for socks in his bag then hopped back. To pull his pants on over his uniform he had to use his right hand entirely, which made the process a bit slower.
Life would be easier if he had two working hands, and if he could run his long stride without a limp.
But Dade’s life has never been easy, so there is no use letting it bring him down.
“To come out of surgery at (4) years old and know that that surgery . . . left you deficient on your left side in both your leg and your arm, and then to face every year, every six months, wondering if that’s going to happen again,” his grandmother Denise Perron said as she wiped away tears.
“It’s just amazing to me that someone so young can find so much courage and just not be afraid.”