By Tim Unruh, The Salina Journal, Kan.
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Aug. 31--MARQUETTE -- It wasn't until well after Browynn Birdsong's brain surgery that his parents, Dustin and Denae, could steal a moment to breathe easy and reflect.

Only an instant had passed, it seemed, from the time they first noticed a tremor in their almost 2-year-old son's left hand and arm. That was 15 days ago, Aug. 16.

The tremor didn't go away, and by Monday the 18th, his left leg was beginning to shake. The Birdsongs took their youngest of five to Lindsborg Community Hospital on Aug. 19.

A CT scan confirmed a tumor on the right side of Browynn's brain, and it was affecting the left side of his body.

Doctors called for an air ambulance, and the toddler and his mother were flown by LifeWatch to Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo. Dustin drove the family pickup.

Browynn was diagnosed with a PNET (primitive neuroectodermal tumor, according to the American Brain Tumor Association website).

By the morning of Aug. 20, the tyke was being prepped for surgery. After 7 1/2 hours in an operating room on the 22nd, doctors announced that nearly all of the fast-growing malignant tumor was removed, Dustin Birdsong said, and that Browynn's prognosis is positive.

Spots on MRI tests turned out to be blood clots that are dissolving, and a shunt to drain pressure was removed Friday.

"He's doing well. He's now machine-free and able to go where he wants," Dustin said.

Chemotherapy is planned to zap any remaining cancer cells, and if Browynn goes into remission, no more treatment is necessary, said his father.

Radiation therapy, which isn't recommended until he turns 3, is being saved "as a wild card," Dustin Birdsong said, if Browynn's cancer resurfaces.

Therapists have already swooped in to help the towheaded, blue-eyed little boy regain use of his left side. Chances are good that Browynn will be released from Children's Mercy long enough on Sept. 5 to celebrate his second birthday at home, then return to the Kansas City hospital for more treatment.

"They'll do a followup test on Monday," Dustin Birdsong said. "The lower the pressure on his brain, the more hours they will give us away from the hospital."

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In roughly 15 days, Browynn has been deemed on the mend, and his parents are overwhelmed.

"Sometimes it's hard to remember what day of the week it is," Dustin Birdsong said. "It goes by pretty quick in a hospital."

Nearly as swift has been the tsunami of support from friends, family and the Marquette community.

The Prayers for Browynn Facebook page had 2,334 members Saturday (Marquette's population is less than 650). Jessica Decker, the Birdsongs' real estate agent at Remax Advantage in Salina, organized a list for people to bring meals to the family. Folks in their hometown rallied to make sure the four other Birdsong kids -- Cadence, 12; Annaleice, 11; Treygan, 8; and Ruxton, 7 -- had places to stay, rides to and from school and activities, and other needs met.

"That's what we do in Marquette, no matter who it is," said Ashley DeBaere, of Marquette, a Birdsong family friend.

"Saying 'thanks' isn't enough, but right now it has to be," Dustin Birdsong said. "Without the community, that would put a lot more stress on us. That's why we moved to Marquette. If it rains, anybody there would give your kid a ride home."

Help hasn't stopped there.

A spaghetti dinner and auction are planned from 5 to 7 p.m.Sept. 7 at two restaurants -- Ranch House and JR's Place -- each in downtown Marquette. The cost is a donation.

And the Ballin' for Browynn 7-3 Softball Tournament (seven guys and three girls per team) is set for Oct. 18 at the East Crawford Recreation Area in Salina. Entry fee is $150 per team. Entry deadline is Oct. 12. Call Amanda Abrams at 829-7435, or Sonia Shepard, (785) 472-6984. All proceeds go to Birdsong family.

"We're expecting a large crowd," DeBaere said.

Thanks to one person paying for the food -- others are bringing desserts -- all of the money collected will go to the Birdsongs to defray medical and travel expenses.

"Denae and Dustin want to be there to thank everyone," DeBaere said. "They're working on it."

The Browynn Birdsong Medical Fund is established at Sunflower Bank, and until the Sept. 7 benefit, another account is set up at Farmers State Bank in Marquette. After the big meal and auction, all funds will be consolidated in the Sunflower Bank account, DeBaeres said.

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Insurance is a problem for the Birdsongs. Dustin and Denae, who were working for the same company, lost their jobs July 7 but were told they would continue to be covered by the company's insurance.

But since they arrived at the hospital in Kansas City, Dustin said, their former employer's insurance provider has denied the Birdsong family coverage.

"We've applied for assistance through the hospital and different agencies in Kansas," Dustin said. "We most likely will go on Blue Cross-Blue Shield's COBRA insurance."

Denae has since been re-hired by a previous employer in Salina, Dustin said, and he has found work in McPherson. The couple expects to resolve their insurance issues once their employee probation periods are finished later this fall.

Life has continued for the Birdsong clan. Maternal grandparents Ron and Mary Boyd, of Kipp, brought Browynn's siblings and DeBaere's daughter Bella, 11, to Kansas City on Saturday, and they'll return home on Labor Day.

But none of the kids were able to see Browynn.

A virus detected in the hospital prevented anyone 12 and younger from entering, their dad said, but the parents were able to spend time with their four older children.

"They're a little scared about the unknown, and anxious to be able to see Browynn," Dustin Birdsong said.

DeBaere also paid Browynn a visit, and left pleased after several hours.

Browynn, she said, is "doing very well, better that what I expected after having surgery. He's a strong little boy."

Community members were worried about Browynn, DeBaere said, and their only way to cope was to help the Birdsongs.

"I got calls left and right, and it didn't surprise me," DeBaere said. "When something like this happens, we're one giant family.

-- Reporter Tim Unruh can be reached at 822-1419 or by email at


(c)2014 The Salina Journal (Salina, Kan.)

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