'We need to save his life:' A 10-year-old's remarkable recovery from cancer that took his right leg
A 10-year-old boy from Red Lake Falls, Minnesota is teaching some incredible lessons about perseverance and courage following a traumatic cancer battle this past year.
MOORHEAD — Alex Gullingsrud was your typical energetic, active kid in a busy sports and school family.
Then a diagnosis that rocked them and the community that would later embrace them.
"O.K., water bottle, sticks and sled," Alex Gullingsrud's mother Nikki Gullingsrud said as she helped him get to the ice at the Cullen Hockey Center.
She helped Alex Gullingsrud get ready for a weekend practice Saturday, Jan 7.
"Here we go Alex, going hard, going hard," yelled HOPE Inc. coach Bill Grommesh.
Alex Gullingsrud is now part of HOPE's growing sled hockey team, but his team and new sport is nearly two hours from home.
"Thata boy, Alex, thata boy," Grommesh said.
Alex Gullingsrud's journey to the rink started just over a year ago, when the family noticed something wasn't right.
"He just kept saying, 'my leg hurts, my leg hurts,'" Nikki Gullingsrud said.
Soon Alex Gullingsrud underwent X-rays, blood tests, and scans.
"At first we thought it was growing pains," Nikki Gullingsrud said.
The tests resulted in a diagnosis of osteosarcoma in the form of a tumor on Alex Gullingsrud's hip.
"It was huge. It was larger than a softball," Nikki Gullingsrud said.
Tumors were also found in his lungs. Surgery to amputate Alex Gullingsrud's leg became the drastic, but only way the Red Lake Falls boy would go home.
"(T)hat's what the surgeon said. He said, 'This is life-saving. We're not having any other conversations, this is to save his life,'" Nikki Gullingsrud said.
Those few moments at Mayo Clinic changed the family's life.
"It went from, 'Let's get the tumor out of him,' to, 'Okay, let's see if we can save his leg,' to, 'I don't care what they have to do, we need to save his life,'" Nikki Gullingsrud said.
The trauma of an amputation for such an active boy, was followed by intense chemotherapy that almost leveled him.
"He's got some good fire, don't you Alex," Nikki Gullingsrud said. "He's pretty feisty, and he always has been."
Back home there was widespread support. Alex Gullingsrud's parents are coaches and teachers. And at school, Alex Gullingsrud's buddies shaved their heads.
"Alex, you are not alone. We love you. Alex strong," his class said to him in a video.
There were cheers when they heard Alex Gullingsrud was finally coming home.
Since then Alex Gullingsrud, a determined, competitive boy, has continued with his love of sports and the outdoors. He golfs, plays flag football, shoots baskets, and when his class had a track and field day, he not only did the long jump, he ran races. His older brother was close behind him with his classmates cheering him on.
"You just do what you can do to help your kids," Nikki Gullingsrud said.
That's how Alex Gullingsrud got here. Instead of sitting at home asking, 'why,' he's now at the rink asking, 'why not.'
It's hard to keep up with Alex Gullingsrud. He even bagged a deer in November.
"(It was) a 7-point buck," Alex Gullingsrud said.
All those tough days when some weren't sure he could even make it through the storm, Alex Gullingsrud has found his calm on the ice. And after he left sled hockey practice in Moorhead and headed back to Red Lake Falls, he found his grandpa, and the two practiced together in the outdoor rink.
A golden goalie, with a grandson who refuses to quit.