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Published on August 30, 2022

Hometown Care that GROWS With Them

AJ, age 12, plays football in Farragut

AJ, age 12, plays football in Farragut

Despite being only 12 years old, Children’s Hospital patient AJ has already accomplished more than some adults. The Farragut native has met senators, seen his beloved New York Mets play and chatted with Miss America. He’s even performed "Rocky Top" for Peyton Manning and befriended former University of Tennessee quarterback and current NFL quarterback Josh Dobbs.

But more amazing than that: AJ is a brain tumor warrior, having battled seven inoperable brain tumors since he was 4 years old.

Children’s Hospital has had the privilege to care for AJ since 2014, when his parents brought him to the Emergency Department for nausea, behavioral changes and vision problems.

"I knew there was something going on with my child," says Shannon, AJ’s mom. "I never thought it was something like a brain tumor. That never crossed my mind."

An MRI showed the 4-year-old had seven brain tumors, and he was moved to the Children’s Hospital Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) where he waited for surgery with Children’s Hospital pediatric neurosurgeon J. Gentry Savage.

Because of the location, the tumors could not be surgically removed. During the surgery, Dr. Savage took a biopsy to determine what was causing the tumor growth and placed a ventriculoperitoneal shunt to allow for the flow of fluid that had built up in AJ’s brain because of the tumors.

AJ was officially diagnosed with pilocytic astrocytoma, a type of non-malignant tumor that grows slowly and doesn’t spread to other parts of the body.

After his diagnosis, AJ underwent specialized chemotherapy treatments over the following year, to help shrink the tumors and slow their growth. Since then, AJ receives continued care through Children’s Hospital for a range of follow-up needs, including for his physical mobility and vision.

It has been our privilege to treat AJ and watch him grow into the amazing young man he’s become. AJ’s family has become a part of the Children’s Hospital family – which has served our East Tennessee community for 85 years.

"You build this sense of community there – whether it’s the employees, volunteers or other patients" says Shannon. "As parents, to have people who put their eyes on your child every week, it was security. AJ could be himself."

As a non-profit facility, East Tennessee Children’s Hospital relies on donor support to provide expert care that grows along with growing bodies. You can help support our mission and ensure that we’ll reach the next 85 years for kids like AJ by visiting etch.com/donate.