5-year old Nisswa boy brave in the face of brain surgery

Three years ago, a 6-centimeter by 6-centimeter by 7-centimeter cyst was found in 8-year-old Hunter Rowland's brain. The cyst was discovered when his mother, Hope Rowland of Nisswa, became concerned about Hunter's frequent migraines. Doctors humo...

Three years after Hunter Rowland (front) developed arachnoid cysts in his brain at age 8, his five-year-old brother, Ridge (highlighted back row, left) has developed a cyst twice as big. Father Bill, brother Lake, and mom Hope didn't let Hunter go through the experience alone, and now they will be there for Ridge. Photo by Travis Grimler

Three years ago, a 6-centimeter by 6-centimeter by 7-centimeter cyst was found in 8-year-old Hunter Rowland's brain.

The cyst was discovered when his mother, Hope Rowland of Nisswa, became concerned about Hunter's frequent migraines. Doctors humored her and scanned Hunter's brain, where they found the cyst. Hunter underwent surgery to have the cyst drained three weeks later.

These cysts are pouches of cerebrospinal fluid that accumulate in the brains of some 11 percent of the human population, Hope said. In people with these cysts, called arachnoid cysts, the fluid accumulates instead of being reabsorbed by the body. Many people show no symptoms. In people like Hunter, the growing pressure can cause changes in behavior, migraines, seizures and other symptoms.


  • 3 cysts found in skull of Ridge Rowland
  • Ridge's older brother, Hunter also has cyst
  • Cysts contain pouches of cerebrospinal fluid
  • Recovery takes approximately six months
  • Spaghetti dinner benefit - Jenkins VFW 5 p.m. Sat., Sept. 27



"His was more than twice the normal size, so we did need to do the surgery," Hope said.

"It affected my personality. Mainly I was more aggressive than I should have been," Hunter said.

Cysts of significant size aren't common, and Hope said having multiple people in one family with cysts is relatively uncommon.

But when her youngest son, 5-year-old Ridge started having migraines, personality changes and developed a lump on the side of his skull, Hope knew what it meant.

"He is exactly like Hunter, personality-wise and attitude-wise. They both go from hot to cold and extreme mood changes. He's just like Hunter was at that age. Everything about him. I've kind of been worried for a while, so I had the doctor feel his head. Hunter has a large bump on the left side where the skull formed around the cyst because it was causing so much pressure. We felt the lump and asked the doctor to feel it. He said he'd have no problem doing the scan," Hope said.

Hope's fears were confirmed following a scan Aug. 26. Scans found Ridge had one arachnoid cyst almost twice the size of his brother's, as well as two smaller cysts. The family had to face many of the fears they had three years before.

"It was terrifying going through it the first time. I never thought I would actually have to go through it a second time," Hope said. "I knew, it was an instinct, I knew something was happening with Ridge. Everybody thought I was crazy."

"You just cry for three or four days until you can't cry anymore. Not in front of the kids," said husband and father Bill Rowland. "That's all you do. As soon as they were out of my sight for the first week. That was the roughest, leaving home. I'd get to work, my mind wasn't on what I was doing. The one day I had a panic attack and I had to sit down on the floor. The room came in on me. It's done that a couple times. They told us the first time we shouldn't have to worry about the other boys. I always had that in my head. Then to have it twice as big as Hunter's was pretty crazy. It just hits you like a brick wall."


Ridge's diagnosis is overwhelming, even to adults, but while Ridge feels "creeped out" by the diagnosis, he has an advantage. Ridge has an older brother to look up to, one who has gone through the same surgery and came out better. Ridge said he thinks Hunter is brave, and Hunter plays the part.

"To be honest, I'm pretty proud that I get to be a role model, and I can tell him it's going to be all OK and I'll always be there for him," Hunter said. "I'm (still) very scared and nervous."

Seven-year-old brother Lake is also worried for both of his brothers, but having seen Hunter's personality change after surgery, he has additional concerns.

"I'm scared because I don't know what he's going to act like in the future. Like, if he's going to be nicer or more aggressive," Lake said.

The Rowland family knows that surgery is not a quick fix. Recovery after surgery is a long process, including 24 hours laying flat on his back, five days in the hospital and months of occupational and physical therapy. Recovery takes approximately six months. During that time Hunter couldn't go to water parks, play on slides at school and had to avoid various other strenuous activities.

"I didn't realize how much those things would be affected at first. He looked like a newborn giraffe standing up and walking," Hope said.

Even after the cysts are drained, Hunter and Ridge are likely to live with the cysts for the rest of their lives with occasional scans to track their recovery. The surgery to drain arachnoid cysts is brain surgery, which means there are risks. But the Rowland family wasn't interested in hearing about the risks.

"It doesn't even matter what the risk is. I've never asked that question and I don't want to know. It doesn't matter. It has to be taken care of," Bill said.


"It's brain surgery. There's definitely a risk. I don't want to know the odds of something bad happening on the table. I don't think we've actually asked. I trust our neurosurgeon," Hope said. "He got us through it the first time, so I have every confidence he will get us through the second time, too. He's amazing."

The Rowlands have insurance to cover Ridge's surgery, but they are looking for assistance to pay for travel and other expenses associated with extensive hospital time. To help raise funds, the family will host a spaghetti dinner benefit at the Jenkins VFW at 5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 27. Funds will be raised through a cover charge for the meal, donations and silent auction. Included in the silent auction and prizes are some items donated by professional outdoor athletes and companies.

The family has received support from many people locally, nationally and globally.

"I can't even put it into words. People we don't even know," Hope said. "We thought it would be local people here that supported us with Hunter, but it's just turned nationwide and worldwide now at this point. I never thought we would get this much. I can't even find the right words to describe it."

More than anything, the Rowlands appreciate anything they get in support, even just prayers.

"We're not really religious people, but we definitely feel the power of prayer when you run into something like this. You find your religion," Bill said.

Travis Grimler began work at the Echo Journal Jan. 2 of 2013 while the publication was still split in two as the Pine River Journal and Lake Country Echo. He is a full time reporter/photographer/videographer for the paper and operates primarily out of the northern stretch of the coverage area (Hackensack to Jenkins).
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