Alden “Ace” Ebersole stood sideways, raised the bow in his right hand and with his left pulled the string back to his cheek, eyed the target 15 yards away and let the arrow fly.
The arrow sunk into the center of the practice target for 10 points. One after another, he released the arrows. Another 10. A nine. Nine. Nine. Seven.
His father, Justin Ebersole, retrieved the arrows and called out the scores.
“I’m happy with that,” the 9-year-old said.
The score was indicative of his Ace’s shooting at the final season tournament in Oswego that landed him a spot in the state tournament for National Archery In Schools in Pratt March 10, where 350 students competed. In the elementary division (grades fourth and fifth), Ace scored 10th in the state, earning him a spot at nationals in Louisville, Kentucky, May 9-11.
The fact he qualified for state and nationals left some in awe. The Oswego qualifying tournament was Ace’s first opportunity to compete the entire season because he underwent brain surgery at M.D. Anderson in Houston, Texas, three days after Christmas.
Difficulty sleeping began when Ace was about 6. Despite activity, he began to gain weight and his blood pressure soared.
“By the time I was in second grade, I was weighing 120 pounds,” Ace said.
Doctors at Children’s Mercy treated Ace for pre-insulin diabetes.
“They were chasing the symptoms basically,” said Mr. Ebersole, a dentist who didn’t believe his son was pre-diabetic, given no one in the family had a history of diabetes.
Tests revealed no clues. A scan of the adrenal glands showed nothing.
“I told them I wanted them to scan the pituitary,” Mr. Ebersole said, of the gland sometimes called the master gland because it controls the function of most other endocrine glands in the body. “They said they didn’t find anything.”
Convinced there was something going on the physicians weren’t detecting, the family asked to be referred elsewhere.
“We went to M.D. Anderson and they did the same scan they took at Mercy, and the guy walked in and said, ‘He has a pituitary tumor right there,’” Mr. Ebersole said of the doctor pointing to the picture of Ace’s brain.
The finding brought more scans, blood work and tests.
Results revealed the tumor was producing adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), in addition to the ACTH the pituitary normally produces, causing a lot of cortisol to be dumped into Ace’s system. Consequently, he developed Cushing’s syndrome, which fit every symptom Ace was experiencing. “The odds of a kid his age having a pituitary tumor is 1 in 10 million. The odds of a kid his age having an ACTH-producing pituitary tumor, there’s not even stats,” Mr. Ebersole said. “The surgeon who did his surgery does about 100 to 115 surgeries a year. He’d never seen an ACTH-producing tumor in a kid. He only performs two types of surgeries, so he is pretty much the best at the two he does. He had about 25 doctors following it, though, because it is so rare. His endocrinologist in Kansas City is also writing a journal article, he’s calling, “A Cautionary Tale.”
Dec 28, 2018, Ace underwent surgery to remove the 4 millimeter tumor from the pea-sized gland located behind the sinuses at the base of the brain by the hypothalamus. In the process, the doctor found a second tumor hiding behind the first.
“They cut through my lip right there,” Ace said, lifting his upper lip to reveal the hidden scar above his upper gum where doctor’s entered to access the tiny, benign tumors causing big problems.
“They had to take a small piece of healthy pituitary, but we knew they would to make sure it was clear,” Mr. Ebersole said.
Four days followed of IVs, blood draws, removal of the balloons, packings and his catheter, so Ace was more than ready to go home.
Mr. Ebersole pulled up picture on his cell phone, showing a picture of Ace before the surgery, his face round and puffy from the excess hormones dumped in his system. Since New Year’s, the fourth-grader has lost 30 pounds and grown 4 inches in height.
Once home, Ace was not allowed to return to school for nearly a month, though he kept up with his school work, maintaining his 4.0 GPA, his mother, Sadie Ebersole, said.
“Right now he is adrenal insufficient, so we have to give him hydrocortisone in the morning and at 3 p.m. If he is stressed, whether it is happy stress or upset stress, we have to give him more,” Mr. Ebersole said. “If he gets sick, we have to give him a ton more, because his body right now, the pituitary and the adrenals aren’t synced, which is what they want. It is fine. It will just take time. Right now, if he doesn’t get it, he would die. He would go into adrenal crisis.”
For that reason, and because his condition is so uncommon, Ace wears a medical bracelet wherever he goes. The secretary at Service Valley Charter Academy keeps his injectable in the office for him should he need it.
Although he was back at school by late January, the surgeon didn’t want Ace participating in PE. Old enough this year to finally compete in archery through the school, Ace was excited, but his recovery resulted in him missing out on almost the entire season. The last couple of years, his father had taught him about archery and together they practiced shooting 3-D targets, so his passion for the sport was developed.
Mrs. Ebersole emailed the doctor requesting he release Ace for the last archery tournament of the season. The surgeon agreed to archery only, no PE. Ace managed to get a few practices in the end of February to get a feel for the different type of bow, then went to the last state-qualifying tournament in Oswego. There he garnered a place at the state competition. Then, at state, he scored 214, landing him a place at nationals. Rounds consist of 15 arrows from 10 meters and 15 arrows from 15 meters. A bullseye scores 10 points, so a perfect score would be 300. Ace is not the only SVCA student to qualify for nationals. Ace’s classmate, Hailey Smardo, qualified with her best score ever of 242. Seventh-grader Olivia Jackson and eighth-graders Austin Blundell and Engracia LaDene also qualified. Other students in the Oswego USD 504 district to qualify for nationals were Neosho Heights fourth-grader Christian Cunningham, Neosho Height fifth-graders Tayton Hazel and Marlee Ezell and Oswego High School freshman Jess Blumer.
“It’s pretty incredible exactly three months after brain surgery my 9-year-old little guy qualified for nationals in NASP,” Mrs. Ebersole said. “Obviously, I’m biased and think this is a pretty miraculous story.”
Mr. Ebersole said the Cushing’s is cured. The MRI and all the lab values came back indicative of a complete cure. There is no concern for the tumors returning, but Ace will likely face yearly follow-ups through high school.
“The worst thing is the chance of his pituitary and adrenal glands not linking back up and being steroid-dependent, but that’s one thing that’s nice about being 9 and still growing,” Mr. Ebersole said. “They don’t think it will be a problem.”
Life is not completely back to normal, but Ace, with renewed energy and health, is able to once again look forward to his favorite pastimes of fishing, hunting, golf, tennis, shooting and archery.
“And he’s getting better at corn hole,” Mr. Ebersole said.
“He used to beat me 21-0,” Ace said of his father. “Now it’s 21 to 5.”