On May 22, 2020, the lives of the Edenfield family changed in an unimaginable way, when their youngest of three daughters, Melina Michelle Edenfield—a joyful, energetic, and brilliant little four-year-old—was diagnosed with a deadly pediatric brain tumor, a diffuse midline glioma.
Just the week before, on May 16, 2020, Melina was enjoying the first warm day of the season swimming next door in her Poppy and Nay Nay’s swimming pool without a care in the world. She spent that morning running and biking in the neighborhood with her friends and older sisters.
The next morning, on May 17, 2020, Melina threw up. Thinking it was a minor stomach bug, her mom and dad thought nothing of it. By mid-week, she continued to throw up in the mornings, and was complaining of a headache, but otherwise acted completely normal. On Friday, May 22, 2020, her pediatrician, concerned about the continued sickness and headaches, sent her to the emergency room at Akron Children’s Hospital, Boardman, OH. The doctors there took a CT scan, and immediately had her rushed to Akron Children’s Hospital Main Campus, in Akron, OH. Imaging showed ventricular swelling, which the family learned would not have even presented had they brought Melina to the hospital as few as two days earlier.
Melina’s brain ventricles, responsible for draining fluid from the brain were blocked. Melina needed emergency brain surgery to install a shunt to drain fluid from her brain. While she was sedated, an MRI scan of her brain was completed. The scan showed that Melina had a tumor in her brain stem, but the nature of the tumor was inconclusive because of how early Melina was brought to the hospital. Pediatric neurologists, oncologists, and radiologists from three different hospitals looked at the images and agreed that the tumor’s characteristics aligned with multiple diagnoses; from a diffuse midline glioma to a benign pilocytic astrocytoma.
Initially, the neurosurgery team at Akron Children’s Hospital elected not to do a biopsy because of the location of the tumor on Melina’s brain stem. But after extensive research and meetings, they agreed that the uncertainty surrounding the initial prognosis warranted the procedure. Melina’s biopsy was scheduled, and she was sent home. The family was in complete shock at the diagnosis, but they prayed that the tumor was slow growing or benign and could be treated successfully.
The first few days Melina was at home, Melina enjoyed the pool and played with her friends and older sisters. She had a little bit of a balance problem and a bit of double vision, but otherwise she played and acted like a normal four-year-old. Doctors told the family that some of the symptoms might have been due to the shunt and Melina adjusting to her changing brain pressure. Rapidly, her condition changed, however. Her symptoms continued to worsen daily. By the following week she was very lethargic, had trouble moving her right side, and she could no longer walk. Her speech and vision were badly affected and she had trouble swallowing. The doctors scheduled another MRI on June 5, 2020. This time there was no doubt about the MRI images. The images clearly showed a diffuse midline glioma and the biopsy was cancelled.
The doctors quickly put Melina on steroids and fitted her for a mask for radiation treatment. The family continued to pray and hold out hope that the treatments would improve Melina’s condition. Melina started radiation treatment on June 15, 2020. She completed two radiation treatments, without sedation, before becoming unresponsive and developing a dangerously irregular heartbeat. She was placed into the pediatric intensive care unit where she acutely worsened.
On June 17, 2020, Melina’s mom and dad, along with her oncology team and neurology team at Akron Children’s Hospital, made the heart wrenching decision to stop treatment and place Melina into hospice care. This was absolutely devastating to her Mom, Dad, sisters and extended family, but in all of their hearts they knew this was best for Melina. Melina was sent home to her Poppy and Nay Nay’s house to be comfortable and receive her end of life palliative care. Both teams said that this was the most aggressive tumor that they have seen and treated. On June 24, 2020, a short one month and two days after Melina’s initial diagnosis, and only 19 days from the confirmed diagnosis of a diffuse midline glioma, Melina died in her Mother’s arms.
In her four and half years, Melina’s passion and competitive spirit was exemplified in the way that she attacked everything she did. From T-Ball, to dance class, swimming, or playing the games “Guess Who,” and “Old Maid,” she poured her heart into each day that she lived. But more than anything, the way that she loved and exuded joy could be found in the relationship she shared with big sisters, Klara (8), and Emilea (6), who she adored. During her brief illness, when she was away from Klara and Emilea, every facetime chat started with one statement, “I want to talk to my sisters.”
Melina loved all things “Cheeto” (cheetah) print, Starbucks Frappuccino’s, Disney Princesses, her favorite being Cinderella, Target runs, shopping and giraffes. Fridays were reserved for a special shopping day with Mommy, and summer nights for being coached by Daddy in T-Ball. She spent her days swimming at her Poppy and Nay Nay’s house next door, running and biking outside with all of her neighborhood friends, crafting and playing games with her sisters, and flipping and jumping on the trampoline. In one month, the tumor took everything physical from Melina, but she never lost her relentless passion for life, and she never lost her joy.
Melina chose joy in everything she did, so her family wants to choose joy for Melina. In that light, the family started the Melina Michelle Edenfield Foundation. Melina was her family’s miracle for four and half years. Through her Foundation, her family now hopes she can become the miracle for other families by helping to find a cure for these terminal pediatric brain tumors. Choose Joy for Melina by making a donation to the Melina Michelle Edenfield Foundation so together we can help ease the suffering of other children and families afflicted with this devastating disease.