Though three Ocean Springs-area children have suffered from the rare and inoperable brain tumor known as diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, or DIPG, at least two other Jackson County children have died of a brain tumor and two more have been diagnosed with tumors.
Here’s a look at those cases:
Gracie Mae Seymour, 8, Wade community
On Dec. 28, 2016, doctors diagnosed 8-year-old Gracie Mae Seymour of the Wade community in east Jackson County with a cancerous brain tumor known as a giant cell glioblastoma.
The then third-grader at East Central Elementary underwent surgery two days later to have the tumor removed.
Since January, Gracie and her parents, Heath and Heather Seymour, have been traveling back and forth to University of Alabama Hospital at Birmingham for check ups. She has already completed six weeks of radiation treatment but continues to take oral chemotherapy at home. Her last MRI indicated no growth in her tumor.
Gracie Mae is an avid softball player who loves to hang out with her family and friends.
To help Gracie and her family with medical expenses, donate to the Gracie Mae GoFundMe page or make donations in Gracie Mae’s name at Century Bank.
To keep up with Gracie Mae’s progress, visit the Gracie Mae Seymour Support page on Facebook. Also look for the hashtag #TeamGracie on Facebook for additional updates.
Ariana Farragut, 4, Vancleave
In November 2014, Ariana Farragut of Vancleave, was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor known as atyical teratoid rhabdoid, or ATRT. She was just shy of her second birthday.
Doctors found the tumor after Ariana had a fall and her parents, Jenna and Lee Farragut, took her to the doctor for a checkup because she was vomiting. The same night, her parents learned she had a brain tumor.
She has since undergone at least six surgeries, the first of which was the same day of the diagnosis because of fluid that had built up in her brain.
Ariana, now 4, is undergoing radiation and oral chemotherapy to treat the tumor.
In an update in June, her mother said, the tumor had not grown in size, but the cancer is incurable and could form in other parts of her brain.
She has been receiving treatment at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. Doctors cleared Ariana to go on her Make-A-Wish trip to Disney World in September.
Kaleb Miller, St. Martin
Kaleb Miller was a student at St. Martin Jr. High School when doctors discovered a tumor on his brain diagnosed as a glioblastoma.
Miller underwent more than 2 ½ years of chemotherapy for the original tumor, but a second tumor surfaced later. Miller, who was an A student at school before his surgery, loved soccer, baseball, hunting, paintball, music and hanging out with friends. After brain surgery, Miller taught himself to play guitar and started writing songs. A week before his death on Dec. 13, 2008, members of 3 Doors Down signed Miller’s guitar, and two weeks before his death, he saw a dream come true when he went hunting and shot two deer.
Shortly before his death at the age of 15, Miller told his mom, Patti Fountain-Hopson: “Don’t be afraid. I’m not afraid. The only thing I want to do is make a difference in the world.”
Natalie Hightower, Vancleave
At the age of 12, Natalie Hightower, a student in Vancleave, was diagnosed with a rare brain cancer known as analplastic ganglioglioma. For more than two years, Hightower underwent various treatments, including brain surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and treatment with drugs used in clinical trials.
After her first year of chemotherapy, her initial tumor shrunk, but then more tumors were discovered in 2014.
Her last treatment included the use of an experimental trial drug at the University of Alabama Hospital in Birmingham, Alabama. She was also treated at different times at USA Children’s and Women’s Hospital in Mobile.
Over the years, Natalie was a cheerleader at Vancleave schools, a Vancleave Middle School homecoming queen and a freshman maid at Vancleave High School.
After her death, students from Vancleave and Gautier dressed in orange, Natalie’s favorite color, during a Vancleave-Gautier football game.
Those who knew Natalie said she never lost her love for laughter and her unwavering faith.
“She appreciated everything that was given to her,” one friend said.
Natalie died in September 2015 at the age of 15.