Eighth-Grader Recovers After Brain Surgery


Kate Villanueva and her parents at the hospital after her brain surgery on Jan. 29. (Photo by: Gloria Arredondo)

Eighth grade is supposed to be a special time. You’re right on the brink of high school; dating, driving, and freedom, so close you can taste them. It feels like you’re growing up. Your last few moments of childhood enjoyed to the fullest. This is not the case for Kate Villanueva. 

Kate Villanueva was diagnosed with a brain tumor and fluid in her head two weeks ago. She has since gotten surgery and the community has come together with an outpour of support for her and her family.

“It was Monday afternoon,” Kate said. “My mom got a call from the doctor asking if she could come back. I had gone to the doctor earlier and he didn’t like what I told him, so he told me to get an MRI.”

For weeks prior to this, Kate had been experiencing symptoms but wrote them off as stress or a minor issue.

Well at first it was kinda normal, I guess,” brother and sophomore Rodrigo Villanueva said. “Kate would just wake up with migraines and then she would start throwing up, but it would only happen every once in a while. Then, it became like every other day. We were thinking that it was just high blood pressure, then the doctor said it was most likely something to do with the brain, and that really messed with us.”

The MRI showed a build-up of pressure in her brain, due to hydrocephalus – a condition that produces extra fluid in the brain. The fluid was stuck on a benign tumor in her brain, clogging it and causing the migraines.

We had to go home and tell Kate we were taking her to the hospital,” Rodrigo said. “You know it’s kinda hard to see a family member like that; for me, my sisters, and my parents, it was horrifying to think that she was going to have to go through this.”

Receiving this news was earth-shattering.

When I found out, it was really scary,” Kate said. “I was trying so hard to be brave and not cry, but when my mom asked me how I was doing I just started bawling. It’s a scary thing for someone to tell you that you have a brain tumor.”

Kate and her family arrived at the Children’s Health Hospital in Dallas at 11 p.m., and with the head neurosurgeon not being available, they waited.

At 4 a.m. a neurosurgeon came to talk to me,” Kate’s mom and AISD bus driver Gloria Arredondo said. “He explained that they’re going to have to admit Kate into the hospital because the fluid buildup in her brain is damaging her skull. A few hours later, the head surgeon, Dr. Bruno Braga, showed up and decided that he was going to perform an endoscopic third ventriculostomy – in other words: brain surgery. That same afternoon, Kate went into the operating room to get her surgery done.”

The wait during the surgery was a tense and nerve-wracking for the family.

At the beginning, everything was vague,” Gloria said. “Even though we knew she had a brain tumor and fluid buildup in her brain, we didn’t know what was going to happen. Once we were able to meet with the neural team surgeons and they figured out what to do with Kate’s situation, we felt very confident in knowing that Kate was in the right hands.”

Immediately after hearing about this, the community started doing everything in their power to help.

“It’s a scary thing,” Kate said. “When I came back, my cousin told me about all the fundraisers people were doing my mom and I just started crying. It’s amazing what people actually do for you and how much people actually care.”

Wendy McCue, middle school admin, designed t-shirts with profits going towards Kate’s medical bills. They’re selling for $20.

“I feel like she has gotten so much support, which is really great,” eighth-grader Chloe Martin said.  “They’re doing the fundraiser with the t-shirts that you can buy or just donate. People have written her letters and signed posters for her.”

The transportation department also passed around a sign-up sheet to provide meals for the family. It was completely filled up within 15 minutes.

“Employees from the entire district signed up to bring meals,” Gloria said. “Neighbors, band moms, and Giovanni’s Pizza have provided meals as well.”

Kate was an eighth-grade color guard member in the 2018 marching show, Starstruck. The band boosters donated $500, and every member of the band signed a card giving Kate their best wishes.

Community members and friends have donated money and food to help the Villanueva family (Photo by: Gloria Arredondo)

A lot of people have come to see Kate at the house,” Rodrigo said. “It makes her happy because she stays at home all day with my mom not doing much. It’s exciting for her when people from school, or even outside of school, come and show that they support her.”

Kate’s first day back at school after her surgery was last Thursday.  She is trying to get back into her everyday routine. 

We [Kate and I] have been friends for forever,” eighth-grader Morgan Lemish said. “Finding out what happened was really scary because I didn’t want anything bad to happen, but today was her first day back, and that was awesome. I missed her so much, all of us did. She has such a positive outlook. When you go up to her at school, she makes it seem like nothing’s wrong, even though she’s been through all of this stuff in the past two weeks.”

The people who know Kate best believe that throughout this, Kate has retained her spark and remained who she always has been.

“Kate is so strong – that sounds so cheesy,” Martin said. “But she’s the strongest person I know. I feel like that runs in her family like I really see that in her mom as well. And with Kate, she’s so strong and dedicated to things. I feel like she’s definitely going to get through this just because she always keeps going.”

This experience helped Kate to grow, learn and gain new perspectives on life.

“It’s something I’ll probably remember for the rest of my life,” Kate said. “It’s a scary situation. I don’t wish it for anyone, but I feel like it’s kind of like a lesson. Sometimes I felt like no one cared for me and felt really lonely, but as soon as it happened I saw a ton of people texting my mom asking how I was doing and that made me feel really good.”

Kate and her family are well known throughout the community and people have made the best of this unfortunate event to show their appreciation and support for them.

Everyone likes Kate,” Rodrigo said. “If you don’t like Kate, you’re kinda weird. People will just come up to me and they’ll tell me that Kate is in their thoughts and prayers, or they’ll tell me ‘Hey I bought the shirt,’ and tell me they love my family and it just makes my day go a little smoother.”

The community has come together over the past month to help the Villanueva family get through these dire circumstances in any way possible.

“Even though this has been a very scary time in our lives, I can say that it was a blessing to have discovered Kate’s condition early enough,” Gloria said. “I also have to say that I’m very grateful for everything the community has done for us, and want to say that I am overwhelmed to see their fast reaction to this; we have truly been blown away. Thank you so much, everyone, for everything you’ve been doing for us. God Bless!”


To donate or buy a shirt click here.