An inoperable brain tumor might have taken Hannah Tringhese’s sight, but it certainly didn’t affect her vision.
Six-year-old Hannah Tringhese had just been through the toughest 8-day stretch one might imagine.
In the week leading up to Easter 2016, she started going blind while sitting in her kindergarten classroom. Days later, doctors discovered she had a large, inoperable brain tumor.
The night before a craniotomy that would allow surgeons to access a piece of the tumor for closer analysis, her family arranged an impromptu egg hunt in her hospital room to brighten her spirits.
“Later that night, she took her eggs, she put on bunny ears, and she hopped around to the other kids’ rooms and left eggs outside of their doors,” her mother Sarah Tringhese recalled. “So that has been her heart. Everything she gets, she likes to give away to others.”
Hannah’s journey started when at the end of the school day one day in March 2016, she was slowly walking toward her mother’s classroom, who taught second grade down the hall at Struthers Elementary near Youngstown, with her arms outstretched and unable to see much of anything.
“I was calling her name and she was following my voice,” Tringhese recalled. “I got about 5 feet in front of her and she still couldn’t see me, so I knew something was definitely wrong.”
Hannah had been seen by doctors multiple times in the 5 months leading to this moment for a series of symptoms that had been slowly growing in severity – falls, confusion, vomiting and fevers at night, and leg pain among them. Now her mother was very concerned.
A neurologist initially suspected multiple sclerosis, so she was admitted to Akron Children’s for more tests.
“They scanned her the next morning and that’s when they found she had a large brain tumor,” Tringhese said.
Because it so abruptly took her vision they were concerned the tumor was very aggressive. Tringhese said doctors wanted to get a biopsy of it to see how they should treat it.
But the biopsy would be very invasive, Sarah said. Surgeons would have to go through the nerves on her face to reach it, and the parents had to decide whether to save Hannah’s sense of smell or sense of taste. One of them would be permanently damaged during the procedure.
“At the time, we were preparing for the worst, and we didn’t think there was anything we could do, so that’s why we went ahead with it,” Sarah said.
Doctors diagnosed Hannah with an optic pathway glioma. It started on the optic nerve over her right eye and started spreading to the left. The good news was that it wasn’t as aggressive as initially feared. But a chemotherapy plan was developed to try and keep it from taking the vision in her left eye.
Hannah was scheduled for a 12-month cycle of two different types of chemo. She’d go once per week for a few hours each time; 3 weeks on and 1 week off.
Fearful of going completely blind, she learned at age 6 to walk with a cane, which one might say she took in stride.
“She calls her cane ‘Whiskers’ because cats feel with their whiskers and she feels with her cane,” Tringhese said.
Hannah’s experience with chemo was anything but smooth. She became allergic to one treatment, her body was being worn down, and she’d also developed anticipatory nausea from anxiety and nerves that would cause her to get ill just at the sight of the hospital.
“Nothing is easy about going through chemo, but the support you get from the nurses and staff is – they all catered directly to not only Hannah, but the whole family,” Tringhese said.
Hannah formed a particularly strong bond with a nurse named Lucy Lawrence.
“The way she handled Hannah was kind of like tough love, but that’s what Hannah needed,” Tringhese said. “She got her job done quickly, which helped Hannah to relax.”
Lucy is now a part of the family, Tringhese said.
“Hannah even has a shirt that says ‘I love Lucy.’”
Fast-forward to February 2017, 10 months after chemo began and the check-up scans started showing the cancerous cells in the tumors were shrinking. More recent scans have continued to show promising results.
Despite all her own challenges, Hannah’s vision is to help others. Today, she’s feeling strong, starting second grade in a new school, and running and playing with her friends without much limitation. She paints and does crafts, mainly creating art to give to other people.
The sight in her right eye is still not there, but a recent eye exam with Dr. Richard Hertle showed signs of detecting motion in the corner of the eye, so the family is maintaining hope. And every 3 months she’s scanned for tumor growth.
Hannah’s parents, Sarah and Thomas Tringhese, inspired by their daughter’s compassion and strength, and thankful for her recovery to-date, have started a non-profit organization to help provide respite for other children in Northeast Ohio with brain tumors.
They’re poignantly calling it Hannah’s Vision.