Brain tumor can’t stop Evangeline from spreading joy and playing pranks
The first thing you’ll notice about Evangeline Lovie-Garcia, 9, is her infectious laugh. Pull a prank or tell a joke about bodily functions, and you’re sure to hear it.
When asked what got her through more than 100 days at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital, her answer is simple — “jokes,” Evangeline says.
For about a year, Evangeline suffered from monthly migraines and disorientation that was serious enough that her family brought her to urgent care more than once. She was always assessed and then sent home to rest.
It wasn’t until January 2020 when she was seen at Mary Bridge Children’s Emergency Department with flu-like symptoms that the source of her migraines was discovered.
“That was a long night,” Evangeline’s mom, Wendy Lovie, says. “I think we were there for about five hours — she was given an IV and taken for a CT scan. It was probably around three in the morning when they told us she had a mass in her head.”
Two days later, she had brain surgery.
Her surgeon, Ronald Grondin, MD, removed as much of the mass as he could, and Evangeline seemed to be in the clear for the moment — until a couple days later when her stomach began to swell.
After a series of tests, they discovered that due to her steroids, part of Evangeline’s small intestine had burst, sending her back to the operating room.
Because of her increasing length of stay, the Lovie-Garcia family, who lives in Orting, used the amenities at Tree House: A Place for Families for several weeks. The accommodations helped Evangeline’s parents and younger sister to stay close by as she recovered.
“It was comforting to know that there was one less thing for me to think about,” Wendy says. “When you are in this situation, you’re thinking: meds, brain surgery and ‘x’ amount of days in the hospital. Finances and a place to sleep were my last concerns. It definitely helps to know that there are people out there that are willing to lift a little bit of the weight from your shoulders.”
Evangeline powered through two surgeries, but a difficult journey was still ahead of her. Because of the location of her tumor, her ability to swallow, her gag reflex and many other natural reflexes were impacted. This left her with a tracheostomy, a gastrostomy tube and the need to learn a lot of basic skills, like walking, all over again.
To help motivate Evangeline, her care team created charts listing everything she could still do on her own as a means of encouragement and empowerment.
“She started therapies as soon as she could lift a finger and understand what was being said to her,” Wendy says.
According to Wendy, it’s these staff members who made Mary Bridge Children’s special — from the nurses who were always making sure Evangeline was on their rotation to the doctors who made the whole family comfortable and kept everyone informed regarding her care.
Then there was one of Evangeline’s favorites — Jesse Bartlett.
“Evangeline is a practical joker at heart and that means we have a lot in common,” Child Life Specialist Jesse Bartlett, says. “She loves to hear jokes, tell jokes and play jokes on everyone — her family, nurses, doctors, anyone who provided care for her. Her smile and her laughter really showed her love of life and her resilience in the face of a long and difficult hospitalization.”
Jesse is part of the Mary Bridge Children’s Child Life Services team. Child Life is a donor-supported program that aims to minimize the stress and anxiety children and families may experience during medical care and long hospitalizations.
“Evangeline faced so many challenges and several different surgeries with a lot of unknowns involved,” Jesse says. “She struggled to learn how to express herself after having her tracheostomy placed and needed to rely on others for a lot of her basic needs. She constantly amazed me at her ability to cope with all the uncertainties and changes in her life.”
Evangeline surrounded by all of the toys she collected for Mary Bridge Children’s.
Evangeline and her family decided to pay back the kindness they were shown this past year by hosting a Mary Bridge Children’s Toy Drive for her ninth birthday. Evangeline’s dad, Barry, asked colleagues for donations, and they ended up having to rent a van for all the toys that appeared.
The road ahead
Evangeline’s road to recovery is far from over. Today, she still has her tracheostomy and requires a lot of medical attention. But, she’s working hard in her weekly therapy appointments and is making incredible progress, always with a joke at the ready.
“Thanks to many therapies and amazing surgeons, Evangeline has regained her ability to eat by mouth, talk and even walk with assistance,” Wendy says. “It’s been a long journey, but little by little, we’re moving forward.”