How a Catholic Surgeon's Prayer Saved the Life of an LDS Boy

Tanner Larsen's life has been a succession of miracles as he continues defying all odds.

When David and his wife, Trisha, worried they would never have children of their own, they adopted a beautiful baby girl, even as they continued trying to get pregnant. After the second round of invitro fertilization, the Larsens were ecstatic to learn they were having triplets. However, only one was born without complications. They lost one before birth and learned that their other son, Tanner, had been born without the two lobes of his cerebellum—the part of the brain that regulates muscular activity—fusing together.

"It's an extremely rare condition," David Larsen says. "It is so rare we could only find 14 documented cases since it was first diagnosed in 1918."

Medical problems began at a young age for Tanner. At 2 years old, he began developing tumors in his brain. At one point, the tumors were so large and intrusive, "they pushed his brain over so it was only in half his skull cap," Larsen says.

Then Tanner began having a problem with his ventricles—the cavities in the brain filled with cerebrospinal fluid—which were causing fluid to seep into his brain. This resulted in Tanner having more than 200 seizures a day. "He was regressing from being able to walk and talk a little to not being able to speak at all or crawl," Larsen says.

Despite the fear and uncertainty that filled those early days, the Larsens continued to see the Lord's guidance and miracles fill their lives in unexpected and even unwanted ways. 

For example, near the beginning of Tanner's medical struggles, David's business began to stale and he was forced to begin looking for a new job. He began asking himself, "How could all this happen at this time when we have this son struggling with these medical problems?" Knowing he was about to lose his private medical insurance, David continued looking for options. That's when his home teacher, who was also his High Priest leader, stopped by for a visit. 

"He came over and said, 'I woke up with a very strong impression to tell you to apply for Medicaid,'" Larsen says. But Larsen was very adverse to the idea. That was the last option he wanted to take. 

But Larsen decided to follow the counsel of his priesthood leader. "It was very difficult," he remembers.

Two days after applying, Tanner's condition worsened. For the next three years, Tanner spent most of his life in the hospital and underwent over 25 brain surgeries—something that would not have been possible without the help of Medicaid. 

Even then, Tanner still required another surgery to stabilize his brain. The only problem was that Tanner's team of surgeons at Primary Children's Hospital, who were consulting with doctors across the nation, couldn't figure out a way to perform the surgery.

"They couldn't cut into his skull cap anymore because of all the scar tissue, and yet the bone in his skull had grown so brittle," Larsen says. 

The day before the surgery, Tanner's surgeon, Dr. Walker, pulled the Larsens aside. 

"He looked at us and said, 'I don't know if you're religious at all, but I am. I'm Catholic. I believe in prayer and invite you to join with me because I believe God can help us find a solution,'" Larsen recalls. 

"It didn't matter what faith he was," Larsen says. "But that he had that kind of faith and was willing to take his concerns to the Lord brought a lot of comfort to us."

The Larsens added a family fast to the prayers they'd offered for Tanner. "When our ward heard about it, it became a ward fast. When our stake president heard about it, it became a stake fast," Larsen says. Even the missionaries in the MTC in Chile joined in praying for Tanner when his uncle, who was serving as mission president at the MTC, learned of the family fast. 

The Larsens felt the power and peace that came from those combined prayers. "The next morning . . . we were at Tanner's bedside holding his hand . . . Dr. Walker came in and said, 'I was up pretty much all night and I didn't get much sleep, but early this morning around 4 a.m., I was lying awake in bed and the answer came to me. I know exactly what I need to do.'"

The surgery was a success and marked a turning point for Tanner and the Larsens. "We've certainly been watched over," Larsen says. "We've seen miracles."

While health challenges still lie ahead for Tanner, he is now 8 years old and has relearned to talk and run. "Something we longed for through all these years was just to see him happy," Larsen says. "He's one of the happiest kids I've ever known."

Lead photo courtesy David Larsen
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