CHICAGO – Former Chicago Bears running back Adrian Peterson and his wife, Angela, recently received devastating news when the couple’s 6-year-old son A.J., the eldest of their four children, was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor known as Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG).
DIPG primarily affects children between the ages of 5 and 7, and makes up 10-15 percent of all brain tumors in children, according to the website DIPGregistry.org. There are approximately 100-150 new cases of DIPG diagnosed each year in the United States, and 300 per year in all of North American and Europe.
Unlike other forms of cancer, there has been little progress toward finding a cure for DIPG.
But the Peterson family has maintained a positive outlook throughout the whole ordeal, even A.J., who has been constantly surrounded by loved ones and friends since the problem was first detected about two weeks ago.
“We have such a great support system,” Adrian Peterson said Monday. “That is what really is getting us through all of this. We have like 30 to 40 visitors a day, it seems like. A.J. is handling it great. He still smiles, and that makes us smile. We even begin every day telling jokes. He’s really been amazing.”
While visiting Peterson’s parents in Florida, A.J. awoke on the morning of June 18 and, according to his father, appeared to be wobbly, imbalanced and be suffering from slurred speech. The Peterson’s originally believed A.J.’s problems stemmed from the fact he hadn’t been wearing his prescription glasses, but a local eye doctor recommended the boy see a pediatrician. The pediatrician, who treated A.J. as an infant, seemed to sense the seriousness of the situation.
“The pediatrician had A.J. walk up and down the hall of her office,” Peterson said. ”She told us to go to the store and get some stuff we may need because we may be in the hospital for a while. Then we went to the emergency room, where he had blood work and a CT scan, and then a MRI to confirm that there was a mass in his brain.”
Surgery is not an option because the tumor is embedded in the pons (part of the brain stem on the lower back of the brain). The Petersons sole course of action is to have their son undergo 6 to 8 weeks of daily radiation treatments in a Gainesville, Florida, hospital. A.J. might be eligible to enroll in a medical study at the conclusion of the radiation. The survival rate for DIPG is between 5 and 9 percent.
The family is hopeful A.J. will be discharged late Monday if he can hold his fluids down at the conclusion of his first round of radiation.
“The good thing is we’ve been able to be at the hospital every day with him,” Peterson said. “That’s important. A child can’t go through this alone. I can’t imagine if a child didn’t have their parents in a time like this. We are so lucky to be in an area where both of our families are located.”
Selected by Chicago in the sixth round of the 2002 NFL draft, Peterson spent eight seasons (2002-09) with the Bears as a reserve running back and core special-teams contributor. He carried the football 311 times for 1,283 yards and eight touchdowns. Peterson won the Walter Payton Award as the top college player in Division I-AA following his 1999 season at Georgia Southern. Peterson finished his college career with 6,559 rushing yards. Peterson’s bother, Mike, played linebacker in the NFL for 14 seasons (1999-2012) for the Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars and Atlanta Falcons.
Adrian Peterson has worked hard throughout his adult life to overcome a speech impediment, and recently wrote and book and traveled the country to serve as a motivational speaker and raise awareness about the condition.
Angela Peterson has posted photos of A.J. and all of the hospital visitors on her Facebook page, where the family is also trying to raise money to help offset A.J.'s medical bills.