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The Battle to Save a Boy’s Sight
Comments () | Published May 1, 2008

Students in the bleachers jumped up and down, generating a rhythmic clamor as they chanted: Bob-ee! Bob-ee! Bob-ee! The emotion of the moment seemed to fill the gym.

Teachers and students turned misty-eyed. No one could remember anything like this at Pallotti. Edmonds said the emotion in the room made it feel as if the school had just won the state basketball championship.

Patti Lutz had run into Bobby’s parents at a football game and told them the results of the student vote but made them promise to tell no one. She invited them to the dance but asked them to come in quietly so they wouldn’t give anything away.

Kim Banocy looked over and saw Judy and Bob standing together. Tears streamed down Judy’s face—and Bob’s. Bobby’s friend and fellow band member Mary Dzwonchyk went over to hug them, then went to hug Bobby.

Bobby—the boy who never sought to draw attention to himself—had become the center of a celebration he found hard to comprehend. Students came over to shake his hand. He beamed and thanked them, but it all seemed like a dream. When the cheering quieted enough for the music to start, Kim and Bobby took center stage and danced to “A Moment Like This.”

“I’m so glad you won, Bobby,” Kim said. “Everyone is so happy for you.”

“I’m glad you won, too,” Bobby replied, “but I really can’t believe this is happening.”

At school Monday, Bobby visited Patti Lutz. She asked if he’d recovered from Friday night. With a deadpan expression he said in Spanish, “I’m so excited I think my toes are on fire.”

“I see you haven’t lost your sense of humor,” she said. They both laughed. The outpouring of affection had lifted Bobby higher than he’d been in a long time.

Bobby returned to Hopkins every ten days or so through the fall to have the reservoir under his scalp drained. The size of a quarter and two or three times as thick, the reservoir collected fluid that drained from the cyst. Bobby always closed his eyes during the draining procedure. When it ended, he’d open them and see the world more clearly as pressure on the optic nerve eased. It was always a pleasant surprise. Invariably, though, the cyst filled with more fluid and his eyesight dimmed until the next draining. An MRI in early October showed that the cyst was slightly smaller but was still pressing on the optic nerve.

The draining procedure often caused bad headaches due to the changing pressures within Bobby’s brain. He also suffered sinus infections and fatigue. Sometimes he went to Sue Wiedel’s office to lie down on her sofa.

But for the first time in nearly a year, he felt as if his long ordeal might be nearing the beginning of the end. His sight had improved enough for him to play computer games for the first time in many months.

On December 6—11 months after his first surgery—Bobby underwent an MRI in Silver Spring. His mother estimated it was his 20th in a year, and it would be one of the most important because it would determine, she said, “whether we have a good Christmas or a bad one.”

The Hopkins doctors had noted during Bobby’s recent visits a steady decrease in the amount of fluid drained from his cyst. When they first began draining it after his August surgery, they drew out ten cubic centimeters every ten days or so. That had gradually dropped off. The last time they drained it, there had been virtually no fluid at all.

This meant one of three things, two of them bad: The catheter draining the cyst had dislodged, it had plugged, or it had finally caused the cyst to collapse. They would learn the answer the afternoon of December 11 when Bobby and his mother saw Jallo in his office.

“I hope you have good news for me,” Judy said as they entered the office.

Jallo had studied Bobby’s MRI and offered a smile. “I do have good news,” he said. “The cyst is gone.”

He showed them the MRI. “That’s where the cyst was,” he said, pointing to an area of Bobby’s brain. “Now it’s no longer there.”

Bobby beamed. Judy couldn’t contain her excitement.

Jallo said the delayed effect of the radiation had finally done its job and eradicated the cyst and all the cells that kept producing it.

“It’s not going to come back this time,” Jallo promised.

As soon as he got to the car, Bobby called has father to give him the news. Then he called his grandparents. “The cyst is dead,” he said, then launched into song: “Ding, dong, the cyst is dead—the big, bad cyst is dead!” He called his aunts and uncles and friends to sing the same song.

The following night, Pallotti held a Christmas concert in the gym. Band director Niko Iampiere had asked Bobby to play a brief solo on his baritone sax. Bobby’s parents and grandparents attended.

During intermission, principal Edmonds spoke briefly about Bobby’s medical problems, then announced that they had just received news of their own “Christmas blessing.”

“We’ve learned that Bobby Sliko’s latest MRI came back clean,” he said. The audience and 50-piece band—dressed in white shirts, black slacks, and bow ties—broke into applause.

Bobby had memorized his piece because he couldn’t read the music. He was nervous but stood and played a passage from “Silent Night” without missing a note.

The family spent Christmas at Judy’s parents’ house in Pennsylvania. It was one of the best ever for Bobby, who knew the worst was finally behind him.

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Posted at 12:00 AM/ET, 05/01/2008 RSS | Print | Permalink | Washingtonian.com Articles