David Dorval is like many other 11-year-old boys. He loves playing video games, trading Pokémon cards, and watching sports – especially basketball.

But the normally active boy was suddenly sidelined in December when he began experiencing constant headaches, nausea, vomiting, and episodes of blurred vision.

Trying to determine what was causing this sudden change in their son’s health, David’s parents took him to the pediatrician, who ordered a series of blood tests and referred him to an endocrinologist for more testing.

Thinking his eyesight might be the issue, he also went to an optometrist, who noticed a concerning finding on his exam that suggested elevated pressure in the brain. That doctor immediately sent David to Bascom Palmer Eye Institute for further examination. Additional tests were ordered, which led to an unexpected and frightening diagnosis.

“The imaging study showed a very large brain tumor in the left side of David’s cerebellum – the area of the brain that controls balance” said Heather J. McCrea, MD, PhD, a UHealth – University of Miami Health System pediatric neurosurgeon at Holtz Children’s Hospital. “Pediatric brain tumors overall are not very common (approximately 3,500 cases in children under age 14 in the U.S. each year), but this is one of the more common types that we see in children and is fortunately a tumor that we can cure with surgery.”

As a result of the brain tumor, David had also developed hydrocephalus, a buildup of fluid in the cavities deep within the brain, which causes pressure on the brain. “If the tumor continued to grow, or if the hydrocephalus was left untreated, it would have been life-threatening for David,” Dr. McCrea said.

“When we heard it was a tumor, we panicked,” said David’s father, Romane Dorval. “We are people of faith, so we immediately started praying.”

That same day, David was admitted to Holtz Children’s Hospital at the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Medical Center, where Dr. McCrea performed a successful eight-hour surgery to remove the tumor. Pediatric brain tumors are a main area of focus for Dr. McCrea, who came to Holtz Children’s after completing extensive surgical training at New York-Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and Boston Children’s Hospital.

Within hours after the surgery, David was awake, headache-free, and feeling more like himself.

“I was very scared and nervous,” he said. “But now, after surgery, I feel so much better.”

Fully recovered, David is glad to be back home with his parents and two brothers, and he returned to his fifth-grade class at Broward Charter School of Excellence.

Katucha Dorval, David’s mother, is grateful that her son ended up under the care of Dr. McCrea at Jackson.

“Dr. McCrea was the right person at the right time and she was meant to be David’s doctor,” she said. “Coming to Jackson was the best thing for our family.”