But before he was born - in utero, doctors suspect - a malignant brain tumor was developing. Its presence would not be detected for nearly three years.
Parents Christa and Matt Munson were readying the boys for Halloween last year when the left side of Aden’s body went limp. He was having difficulty breathing.
They rushed to the emergency room where a nurse took him immediately. Aden was taken by ambulance to Fargo where an MRI revealed a large mass on the right side of his brain. “This is not a standard tumor,” doctors told them.
Aden was soon bound for the Mayo Clinic where a second round of magnetic resonance imaging produced a more detailed picture of a tumor the size of a large orange, initially believed to be benign.
Surgery was suggested to remove the mass, but a pediatric neurologist recommended a biopsy, scheduled for Nov. 25.
A family photo portrays a grinning, gregarious almost-3-year-old standing over his birthday cake, surrounded by family and friends three days before the procedure. (His birthday is Dec. 3.)
At Mayo, a large incision, a craniotomy, was made to accommodate the possibility of further surgery to remove the tumor. A sample was taken and a titanium plate implanted.
Dec. 11, they learned Aden’s tumor is an aggressive grade 3 malignancy, an astrocytoma. He’s also been diagnosed with mitosis, cells actively dividing.
The news was “devastating,” Matt said.
The neurologist subsequently predicted the tumor would grow significantly. Doctors wanted to perform surgery followed by radiation.
The Munsons asked for a month to consider the recommendation.
“We know once he has surgery, he won’t be the same,” Matt said. “There will be permanent impairment. Radiation will destroy his brain,” he said of loss of motor skills and Aden’s speech being affected.
Also, he explained, the tumor extends to the white matter, affecting the transmission of nerve signals.
“And doctors are unsure if they could get all the cancer.”
Surgery was scheduled for mid-January but an MRI found no growth of the tumor.
The Munsons, who had researched the condition and the options from the initial diagnosis, determined radiation to be too extreme. And surgery can trigger metastasis.
“Trying to be as proactive as possible,” they “totally restructured his diet to assist his immune system,” Christa said of adopting the Whole Foods approach, having read testimonies online. She was also familiar with a cancer survivor who’d adopted an organic, vegetarian diet, rejecting surgery.
“And we believe God has a huge part in this,” she said. “So many people are praying…”
And helping. Friends and fellow parishioners arrive to assist in the kitchen, scrubbing and chopping the vast volume of veggies and fruits the family consumes on the Whole Foods diet.
Aden appears to be in no pain and continues to progress physically and developmentally. When the entire family comes down with colds and flu, Aden remains healthy. His appetite remains hearty. But a Diastat is close at hand, in the event of a seizure.
Because there’s no evidence of the tumor “pushing” the brain, doctors believe it developed in the womb. But the tumor is integrated in the brain tissue.
A doctor at Johns Hopkins told them “it’s like plaid; it’s intermixed.
If the tumor is removed, the void would fill with fluid. The brain tissue would not regenerate.
“With surgery,” Matt said, “he may have five years. Without, there are no answers. We are in uncharted territory,” he said of the rare circumstances of Aden’s cancer.
“If we see his quality of life deteriorating, we will consider surgery,” Christa said. “But we know with surgery he will be significantly impaired. And there’s no promise it will help.”
“It’s definitely not an easy choice,” they agree.
But they see the tumor’s stagnant growth as “a miracle. It should have gotten bigger.”
The Munsons value the advice received from local physician Dr. RaNae Doll, whom they visit weekly. “She’s been amazing, so encouraging.”
Through research, Christa learned cancer victims become survivors by “reducing stress, and embracing happiness.”
That was evident Thursday, when the Munson family drove into the yard to surprise Aden and his brothers with a huge playground, a gift from Make-A-Wish Minnesota.
A little stumble into a puddle did not dampen Aden’s enthusiasm for what had sprouted in the family’s yard. (They spent the previous night at Grandma’s).
The Make-A-Wish playground is replete with slides descending from castle-towers connected by a bridge.
Smokey Hills Outdoor Store “caught wind of it” and donated an airplane teeter totter.
“Of the three boys, Aden would live outside,” Christa told Bob and Stephanie Moe, volunteers who represented Make-A-Wish Minnesota in the Aden Munson decision process.
“A wish-come-true can have positive impacts on the health of children,” the organization states. “Kids say wishes give them renewed strength to fight their illnesses, and their parents say these experiences help strengthen the entire family.
“With the help of generous donors and more than 700 Minnesota volunteers, Make-A-Wish Minnesota grants a wish somewhere in the state every 27 hours.”
Visit www.mn.wish.org to learn more.