When Nicholas Polo was working out with his father in June of 2012, he began to experience severe head and neck pains and knew something was wrong.
Polo, now 16, experienced symptoms of double vision and throwing up, all while trying to prepare for his freshman year at St. Anthony’s High School. Initially, Polo thought the problems originated from a bulging disk, so he went to physical therapy. That provided temporary relief, but the same issues returned.
His parents took him to Vijaya Atluru, M.D., who ordered an MRI. The doctor discovered that Polo had a tumor in his pineal gland, a small endocrine gland in the center of the brain, and suspected Hydrocephalus. Hydrocephalus, a dangerous accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain, can be caused by the presence of a brain tumor.
Dr. Atluru referred Polo to John A. Grant, M.D., F.A.C.S., attending pediatric neurosurgeon with Neurological Surgery at Winthrop
To address the Hydrocephalus, Dr. Grant performed a procedure called third ventriculostomy, which uses a small camera with fiber optic technology to view the surface of the ventricle (space) inside the brain, where the fluid accumulates. A small tool attached to the same device makes a tiny hole in the floor of the third ventricle, which releases the built-up fluid.
Dr. Grant also extracted some of this fluid and tested it for tumor markers to rule out a germinoma, which can only be treated with chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and not surgery. The test determined that Polo did not have a germinoma. Based on these results, surgery was the appropriate treatment option. The next task was to remove the tumor.
The exact type of tumor could only be determined through a biopsy, performed after its removal, which showed that it was a mixed pineal tumor, with a combination of benign and malignant cells.
“This is a very complex surgery, as the tumor is located in the center of the brain,” Dr. Grant said.
“I had to go for radiation and eight months of chemotherapy,” Polo said.
He now gets regular MRIs to ensure that everything is okay.
“Nicholas is a real fighter,” Dr. Grant. “He bounced back rapidly.”
“When cancer strikes a home, you have to depend on a lot of people,” Polo’s father Richard said. “I have nothing but praise for the people in this field that helped us.”
When Polo first got sick, the assistant baseball coach at the University of Central Florida (UCF), whom Richard coached in Wantagh, invited him to throw out the first pitch at a game the following season.
Polo knew he had turned the corner when he threw a perfect “strike” in a UCF game against Tulane University.
“I was so nervous, and then I threw a perfect strike,” he said. “I felt great after that.”
He was also invited to visit Rutgers University, where Coach Flood gave him a tour of the facility. When Polo’s began feeling ill, Flood asked him to carry the football into the end zone from five yards out, which he called “a special feeling.”
Polo is now involved in the “Back in the Game” program at Pro Performance in Garden City, where he’s preparing to return to “normal life.” He hopes to get back into football this fall. Polo’s also working with kids who are going to similar situations that he endured.
“The little guys that are going through what he went through are looking up to him,” Richard said. “His whole attitude is inspirational to all of us. Everyone that knows Nick is blown away by it.”
The family’s also been thankful for the outpouring support from the Wantagh, Seaford and St. Anthony’s communities, which included a benefit to raise money at Mulcahy’s in 2012.
“Last year, the days I made it to school…everyone cared,” Polo said. “The football community is awesome.”
“I want people to know that there’s always someone can help you get through whatever you have,” he added. “You just have to stay strong and knock it out of the park.”
As far as a future career, the whole experience has inspired Polo to enter the medical field in some fashion.
“Looking at all this, I never took an interest in health science,” Polo said. “Now I want to help kids that had the same thing that I did. I just want to help others.”