Ronil Mehta, son of Manisha and Milan and older brother to Sahil, fought a courageous 31-month battle with a DIPG brain tumor, a terminal pediatric brain cancer. Ronil’s DIPG journey from Jan 2016 to Sept 2018 is one of immense courage and strength, inspiring us to cherish the present, never lose hope, and live life to its fullest despite all challenges.
Ronil was a kind, fun-loving kid, who enjoyed playing sports like baseball, basketball, karate, and skiing, and had a fascination with tech and politics. He liked going to the beach, playing video games with his friends, and dreamed of becoming a pilot.
In Nov 2015, when he was in 7th grade during his 12th birthday party, Ronil experienced his first headache. The headaches became more frequent, but doctors dismissed them as migraines. On Jan 7th, 2016 while getting ready to go to school, Ronil collapsed unconscious and was diagnosed with DIPG tumor in his brainstem. In the blink of a second, their world was shattered as he fell into a coma and the doctors encouraged the parents to take him off life support. Miraculously he woke up a week later in an ICU room, stripped of all his mobility and could only communicate through blinking. Yet, in the face of such adversity, he displayed unwavering bravery by not feeling fearful of this terrible situation and understood and accepted treatment options for this deadly disease.
Ronil underwent surgeries and treatments, showing remarkable resilience. He returned home in a wheelchair after a four-month hospital stay, bringing immense joy to his loved ones. Despite the devastating prognosis of DIPG, Ronil effortlessly embraced this new reality without any doubts or self-pity focusing on restoring a sense of normalcy and making a positive impact on others.
Through radiation, physical, occupational, and speech therapy, and sheer determination, Ronil regained strength, started going to school again, and engaged in life’s adventures such as snowmobiling, zip-car diving, and indoor skydiving. Despite muscle spasms, he tackled his homework independently, never losing his integrity or playful charm.
Ronil made his own decision to have his capped trach tube removed, prioritizing his quality of life above the doctors’ concerns regarding a potential need for it in the future. Ronil selflessly accepted a UCSF clinical trial, aware of its limited impact on his outcome and potentially severe side effects, driven by the belief that it could benefit future children.
However, in January 2017, Ronil’s health declined, and subsequent scans revealed disease progression. He underwent emergency hydrocephalus brain surgery and was also re-radiated, but his tumor continued to progress as he again lost his ability to talk or walk. In April, doctors delivered the heartbreaking news that he had just two months left to live.
Determined to find a potential solution, Ronil’s family reached out to doctors in Monterrey, Mexico, and got him admitted into an experimental treatment program that combined intra-arterial chemotherapy and immunotherapy in May. The treatments showed some reduction in the tumor size, and Ronil returned home to San Francisco for his middle school graduation, receiving recognition for his bravery and for spreading DIPG awareness in the community.
Despite his limited mobility, Ronil continued doing the things he loved, communicating through alphabet apps and body language. He enjoyed movies, restaurants, and board games, keeping up with politics and his favorite basketball team. Ronil’s inspirational journey even caught the attention of Stephen Curry and President Obama, who sent him personalized messages and encouraged him to keep fighting. He enjoyed being a teenager, now going to high school as a freshman (9th grade), and spending quality time with friends and family.
Ronil and his family persevered through monthly visits to Mexico for treatments until May 2018. Sadly, they had to halt the trips as his tumor metastasized. Ronil spent his final months in hospice care in a state of slumber, but in rare moments of wakefulness, he expressed his love and encouraged his family to continue living their lives after he was gone.
On September 1st, 2018-1st day of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month-Ronil peacefully passed away at home leaving behind cherished memories and a lasting impact on the hearts and lives of everyone.
Honoring his final wishes the family donated his tumor to Stanford Hospital for DIPG research and it gives them a measure of solace knowing that his tumor is now one of the only cell lines for Wild Type mutation utilized worldwide in research and trials. Through this selfless contribution, Ronil’s enduring legacy extends beyond his own journey, providing hope for present and future children with DIPG.
Ronil’s unwavering faith in the inherent goodness of life is evident in every aspect of his being, serving as a reminder to embrace each moment with gratitude and optimism. Keep the memory of his vibrant smile close to your heart, for it has the power to illuminate and enrich your own life.