Meet Ender Pense

When Jennifer and Joshua Pense were given the news that their 17-month-old son, Ender, had a brain tumor, three little words stand out in Jennifer’s memory as a beacon of hope. “One of the nurses looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘We’ve got this.’”

That was a Monday night in March 2015, and the 36 hours prior when Ender had been admitted to their local hospital, had been a blur for the Pense family. The toddler had been throwing up for days, with an assumed strep infection, and was down to 17 pounds from 21. By Monday evening, it was decided that Ender should be transferred to Arkansas Children’s Hospital on Angel One.

Upon their arrival in Little Rock, Jennifer says they were impressed by the swift response. Overnight, he was seen by the heads of gastroenterology, cardiology, and neurology. In spite of all the attention, however, she says she and her husband didn’t allow themselves to entertain worst-case scenarios. “We’re not big worriers,” she explains. “We lean toward faith over fear.”

When Ender was referred by gastroenterology for a MRI of his head, the Pense Family fully expected it to come back with positive results. "When the results showed a brain tumor," says Josh, “They didn’t just come and drop that news on our lap and leave. They had people ready and waiting to support us.”

“That nurse knew exactly what to do and say,” recalls Jennifer. “She was awesome. She told us to take a minute and collect ourselves before meeting with the neurosurgeon.” The same calm confidence carried over into that consultation.

“Dr. Albert is absolutely incredible. His straightforward, confident, matter-of-fact approach allowed me to stay very calm, so I understood what was happening.”

Josh agrees. “He didn’t talk down to us, but showed us the MRI images and explained his plan.”

Jennifer adds, “I could see that he knew clearly what the problem was, and he knew he could solve it, which gave me a ton of confidence.”

Dr. Albert was concerned about fluid buildup from a cyst on the tumor that was causing lots of pressure on Ender’s brain. The immediate plan was to place a drain and then do a biopsy to learn what kind of tumor it was. The initial MRI scans also showed evidence of a small stroke at the time. Time was of the essence.

Then something totally unexpected happened. After the drain and biopsy were done on Wednesday morning, Dr. Albert couldn't see the tumor anymore. A follow-up MRI now showed that not only had the first stroke completely resolved, but the tumor was now loose and floating in fluid.

“I could tell that Dr. Albert was excited because he could extract the tumor now.” Whereas the initial plan had been to deal with the cyst and let the tumor go--as long as it proved benign--Dr. Albert was able to safely remove it in entirety, and Ender’s vital signs began to improve immediately.

During recovery, Jennifer says, Arkansas Children’s staff was “absolutely incredible. Not only did that nurse come and find us in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, but the Angel One team found us. They didn’t have to do that. They really wanted to see how he was. Everyone we encountered showed us they cared and that made a difference.”

After Ender was released to go home, he started leaking through the small hole that had been drilled in his skull during surgery. The Pense Family drove three hours back to ACH. Jennifer remembers Dr. Albert met them in a tux, having left a formal event to attend to Ender’s case. The leak was fixed, and Ender was soon back on track with recovery. Apart from the follow-up scans for the next few years, his parents say, it was as if none of it had ever happened. Ender was back to normal.

The Pense Family, now living in Springdale, say that the opening of the Arkansas Children’s Northwest has made an enormous difference. Ender has a twin brother, Asher, and having to make the trip to Little Rock was a big upheaval. With ACNW open, they say, they experience the same great quality of care without the disruption.

Recently, it was Asher’s turn to be the patient, when he required stitches in his forehead and chin. Josh says, “When you go to Arkansas Children’s they know how to take care of children. A child life worker came in with a doll and was able to talk to Asher in a way he’d understand. Consequently, he was able to get stitches while completely awake and calm.”

“Families with young children don’t need the added stress from environments that aren't geared to handle their needs,” he says. “It’s called Arkansas Children’s for a reason, and it shows.”

Jennifer says that Ender’s story is deeply rooted in their faith, and they try to pass that belief along whenever they talk to him about the experience. “We tell him God is always taking care of us, even when things don’t go the way we think they're going to go.”

“God used Arkansas Children's Hospital to take care of us.”

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