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Fear, hope as Taylor Radtke's surgery begins
By Amy R. Mack | Daily Herald Staff

Surgeons keep an eye on a monitor as they work on Taylor Radtke today in Phoenix.


Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

Laurie Radtke talks with her daughter Taylor Thursday morning before Taylor's surgery at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix.


Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

Taylor on her way to surgery today in Phoenix.


Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

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Published: 10/24/200 4:44 PM | Updated: 10/25/2007 12:36 PM

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Like her daughter, who relished every moment of a special visit to the San Diego Zoo last week, Laurie Radtke found herself trying to soak in every detail before she handed her child over for surgery today.

She watched Taylor brush her hair, trying to style it just so. She took a mental photograph as Taylor spread butter on her Eggo waffles. She treasured watching her daughter play with her little brother, knowing every such moment might be the last.

"I don't want to miss anything. I want to be able to recall everything and, when I remember, get a smile, you know?" she said. "Just in case?"

Earlier Coverage
Taylor Radtke
Seven-year-old Taylor Radtke, diagnosed with a rare tumor that threatens her vision and mobility, needs life-saving surgery that few doctors are willing to perform.
How you can help
DONATE - Donations for Taylor Radtke are being accepted at First Midwest Bank's Johnsburg branch, 3805 N. Johnsburg Road, and McHenry branch, 1308 N. Route 31. Funds raised will be put toward research, travel expenses and medical costs.
SEND A CARD - If you'd like to write the Radtkes a card, please send them courtesy of Amy Mack, Daily Herald, 385 Airport Road, Suite A, Elgin, IL 60123.

The words were garbled by tears that are always ready to fall.

Taylor's delicate surgery began around mid-morning and was expected to last for hours.

Talking by phone from the girl's room prior to the surgery, Laurie stepped outside the room so Taylor couldn't hear.

"I'm scared out of my mind," she said. The words tumbled softly. "I'm probably more scared now than at any time in my life."

Eating and sleeping aren't habit anymore. They're something she must find time and energy for. As the hours tick toward the surgery the young mother from Johnsburg hopes will save her daughter's life, it's also become a challenge just to breathe.

"I'm numb," Laurie said. "I'm to the point where I'm either numb or a basket case crying my eyes out. It's blinding, literally, a blinding numbness ... so emotional you can't see straight. I try so hard not to do that in front of her, but it's almost to the point where you can't help it."

If she could hop back on a plane and whisk Taylor away from this medical nightmare, she'd do it in a heartbeat. Even though she and husband Jeff fought so hard to find a surgeon willing to try to work a miracle on the brain tumor that threatens Taylor's life, they wish there were another way than handing her over to the Phoenix surgeons.

"I wish it would just go away," Jeff said quietly. "I wish they'd do the MRI and say there isn't anything here ... there's no reason for you to be here."

His words, like Laurie's, were strained, the fatigue and exhaustion obvious.

They fought so hard to find someone willing to go after the tumor. They're grateful for the tremendous outpouring of love and support from friends, family and strangers and especially appreciative that Dr. Robert Spetzler of the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix agreed to try to save Taylor. They have faith in him, faith in his team, faith in a higher power.

But the fear is raw, unrelenting, cascading now as the hour approaches.

What if they can only remove part of the tumor? What if the surgery does more harm? What if Taylor can't handle the anesthesia or the stress of another operation? And, worst, what if the doctors get inside her brain and find they can't fix her after all?

"The doctor told us that if they feel they can't do anything, they'd rather close her up and let her have that time with (us)," Laurie said. "That's hard. That's really hard to hear.

"I was expecting more optimism. That was crushing."

Those are the words that stuck and replay in her mind - not Spetzler's estimate the surgery has a 90 percent chance of some success. The fear nothing can be done competes with the difficult news reconfirmed during Taylor's pre-op testing Tuesday that it's almost a given their little girl will go from a first surgery into intensive care before likely needing a second, almost immediate, operation to remove cerebral fluid.

If those first procedures go well, the family must next prepare for possibly many other operations, Laurie said. "I didn't expect to hear multiple surgeries for the rest of her life."

But it's the only way so far. The tumor is anchored near the wall of the carotid artery, which can't be touched. It's also squeezing the sixth cranial nerve, which controls eye movement. Amid those complicating factors is another ominous potential - the tumor may not be benign as they've thought.

Part of Thursday's procedure will be a biopsy to see what's causing the unusual growth.

Jeff and Laurie said they're bracing for what comes next.

"The more you gamble, roll those dice one more time and that last time you lose everything ... how many times do you roll the dice?" Laurie asked.

The little girl who hasn't complained despite numerous tests and procedures over the past year is now balking at every step.

"She's a mess," Laurie said. "She said, 'Mom, why does it always have to be me?' I told her I'm sorry, I wouldn't wish this upon anybody. It's not fair for anyone and we're trying to do the best for you."

The Radtkes, with Taylor and little brother Blake in tow, are just trying to hold it together. But any hope of pretending they're just on vacation was gone when the family toured the intensive care unit where Taylor will be taken after surgery. Then Laurie had to fill out the pre-op paperwork.

"I pretty much cried the whole time," Laurie said. "They ask what are our wishes it she ends up on life support, what's our religion, would we want last rites, the whole thing ... it makes it real.

"I can't eat anything because I always feel like I'm going to throw up."

Amid the worry about Thursday's outcome for Taylor, they're also worried about the effect this will have on 5-year-old Blake.

"The last time we were in the hospital, he said 'Mommy, I just want Taylor to be OK,'" Jeff said. "It gets to him. He jumped up and grabbed Taylor's little journal and wrote 'Blake loves Taylor.' To have him, have them, go through this stuff ... it's not fair. It's not fair to Taylor and it's not fair for Blake.

"You're hoping for the best and trying to be optimistic," Jeff said. "But you have to prepare yourself for the worst, and that's not the easiest thing to do."