Tallahassee man survives rare brain tumor

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By: Abby Walton | WCTV Eyewitness News
August 15, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- What motivates you to go to the gym? For some, it's to lose weight. Others, it’s to gain muscle. But for one Tallahassee man, it's about something more.

For him, it's a way to gain back what he lost almost three years ago.

At 30-years old, Eric Wampler was living the life.

He had a good job, great family and had just started dating someone. Life was good.

But then, a very serious discovery changed his life forever.

Working out has always a big part of Eric's life. In fact, it may have helped save it.

“We were on a hammer strength and independently, his arms, what would have been his strong side was failing him,” Eric’s trainer, Elisabeth Hykel said.

But that wasn't all.

Eric also telling his Momentum Fitness trainer he was experiencing other odd symptoms.

“I was losing my balance on the treadmill. I would be running on the treadmill and kept running into the right side over and over again,” Eric said.

Eric chalked it up to stress.

However, his trainer, Lizz, and his family urged him to see a doctor.

What came next turned his world upside down.

"They said, 'Hey you have some sort of huge growth in your brain. We need to get you to the hospital for emergency brain surgery," Eric said.

After surgery, Eric said he woke up and quickly realized he wasn't the same.

“I couldn't move anything from that right side. You could cut me down in half. Nothing from here over worked. I couldn't swallow, couldn't move my arm, couldn't do sign language, couldn't walk, couldn't talk, couldn't move my face even,” Eric said.

Doctors removed a tumor and part of the left side of his brain.

They told his family that his prognosis was grim.

“I was told it was glioblastoma stage 4 and there was no hope. I didn't receive that. Something in me said no you're wrong," Eric’s mother, Rosemary Wampler, said.

Eric's family then sought out two different medical opinions and waited weeks for their response.

“I kind of figured out that they thought it was bad,” Eric said.

But both medical opinions came back with a different diagnosis.

The tumor wasn’t cancerous.

Instead, the tumor turned out to be juvenile pilocytic astrocytoma.

“What is unusual though is for one of these to surface in an adult," TMH neurosurgeon Dr. Albert Lee said.

Dr. Albert Lee, a neurological surgeon at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital didn't treat Eric, but said his brain tumor is the most common kind diagnosed in children.

"Probably less than one percent of all brain tumors diagnosed in adults are JPAC,” Dr. Lee said.

There is no widespread study on adults with this type of tumor, so most of the studies and pictures are of children.

However, this tumor does have a high cure rate, answering his family’s prayers.

“I mean, everything we were going to go through was going to be hard, but he wasn't going to die," Eric’s mother said.

However, Eric said getting back to his daily life wasn’t easy.

“Before all this, I was extremely healthy. I was able to do box jumps. I was doing man makers. All these crazy things in the gym and now, I can't even put my shirt on,” Eric said.

Or for a time, speak

Eric used a notebook to communicate with his family, but his spirit was determined.

Just weeks after his surgery, Eric was back in the gym.

His trainer used exercises with alternating movements and balance to help reconnect those lost brain pathways.

"One of my goals was to bench 225 pounds and I did accomplish that,” Eric said.

Now, two and a half years after a brain tumor, Eric continues pushing himself by working on things like coordination and speech.

“If I don't get better any, at all anymore, I'm totally happy with it,” Eric said.

But that chance for a full recovery is his motivation to keep fighting every time he steps into the gym.

Again, because this type of tumor is so rare in adults, Dr. Lee said the medical community really hasn’t studied it or knows why it happens in adults.

And one side-note, the day Eric found out he was having emergency brain surgery, he had to actually call and cancel a date he was going on.

But here's the kicker, that girl, named Kristen, and Eric stayed in touch during his recovery.

They became a couple and are now getting married in March.