JUPITER, Fla. | Twenty years ago this week, Matt Wilson, then a junior at Storm Lake High School in Storm Lake, Iowa, prepared for the state basketball tournament, a top reserve on a Tornadoes team that faced New Hampton in the opening round of Class 3A play.
This week? Wilson, 37, oversees three golf courses in Florida. He also attempts to get his head around a whirlwind of events that transpired over the last seven months. It culminated last week when he met with and thanked the great Jack Nicklaus.
"It's been quite the ordeal," Wilson says during a break in his work at Eastpointe Country Club in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. "Now that we're, in a way, looking back, I'm saying to myself, 'Is that my family? Did all that happen?'"
The start of the ordeal is traced to last fall, Sept. 11. Wilson's stepson, Mason Glassgold, 8, had a few vision difficulties. Always active, young Mason was seen tilting his head a bit to bring things into focus as he sat in class or rode his skateboard or shot a basketball.
Eye doctors referred the child to a pediatric ophthalmologist on that date. The doctor ordered an MRI that revealed something in Mason's head.
"They called us immediately," Matt says, referring to himself and his wife, Jennie Wilson, who is Mason's mother. "They said to get Mason out of school immediately and rush him to the emergency room at Miami Children's Hospital."
Doctors there were expecting the family. The large tumor put pressure on the child's brain stem.
Five neurosurgeons conducted tests on Mason on Sept. 12. He passed them easily, save for one exam.
"When they asked him to walk heel-to-toe, he'd fall over," Wilson recalls. "He was a normal kid, playing baseball, dribbling his basketball and riding his skateboard all over. But, we'd never had him walk heel-to-toe before. He couldn't do it."
How long he couldn't step heel-to-toe isn't known. Chances are, it would have been difficult for as long as Mason was tilting his head to find visual focus.
"There was maybe a chance he never could have walked heel-to-toe," Wilson adds. "The surgeon believed the tumor, which was a hard mass, was likely there since birth and had just expanded to the point where it began messing with things."
Like his brain and his spinal cord.
After a delay due to illness (the surgeon's, not the patient's) surgery was slated for Oct. 25. In the interim, Mason returned to school. He began noticing sensitivity to light, dizziness and headaches.
The 12-hour surgery at Miami Children's Hospital that day involved mapping Mason's body to monitor every twitch, a safeguard against paralysis. An incision on the back of his head allowed doctors to lift his medulla and get at the tumor, a tumor that was re-sected from the inside, leaving the outer core.
"It was a hard mass, like a rock, or a small golf ball," the golf course pro says.
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And, luckily, benign.
Mason spent the following three days in an induced coma. A breathing tube came out 48 hours after surgery. Over the next six days, he slowly regained his awareness and strength.
"The big challenge when he finally opened his eyes involved the right side of his body," Wilson remembers. "He'd been laying on his right side for the first three days and he couldn't move his right arm or right leg. They said there would be side effects, and this was one."
Mason was discharged on Halloween and spent the next four days in a wheelchair before transitioning to a walker and then crutches. Miami Children's Hospital has an outpatient unit at Palm Beach Gardens, allowing Mason to go through occupational, speech and physical therapy close to home, as Miami is about 90 miles from the family's home in Jupiter.
By Thanksgiving week, the second-grader was back in school for half-day sessions.
"There are still vision issues that persist," Wilson says. "We'll get an MRI every three to six months for several years just to monitor whether the tumor changes or not. The prognosis right now is very good. There's a great chance he'll lead a normal life, which is the best news of all."
Mason is back to riding his skateboard and practicing baseball.
He's also become a bit of a local celebrity, along with his family, as they were featured in a commercial that ran during last weekend's PGA event, The Honda Classic, a tournament that unfolds at PGA National, a Jack Nicklaus golf course across the street from Eastpointe Country Club.
On Feb. 24, Matt and Jennie Wilson were guests of Jack and Barbara Nicklaus and a dinner organized by The Nicklaus Foundation, a charitable organization that helps raise money for Miami Children's Hospital. The Wilsons spoke at the dinner and Matt shared their ordeal, all the while offering his thanks for what the hospital and the Nicklaus Foundation does for those in need.
Golf analyst Johnny Miller joined the Wilsons for dinner before their after-dinner speech. Matt rose at the invitation of Barbara Nicklaus and stood next to Jack Nicklaus while relating how lucky he and his young family have been over the past seven months.
"I told them how thankful we are to people who dedicate their lives to saving others," Wilson says.
While it wasn't necessarily the way this lifelong golf enthusiast envisioned he'd meet the best golfer of all-time, Wilson says he's blessed he gotten that opportunity. And ever so thankful Jack Nicklaus and the people around him have directed their efforts to helping children and families in need.
"We'll do anything to help the cause," Wilson concludes.
Nicklaus' pro-am that followed the dinner the next day, by the way, raised a cool $1.4 million to help make sure others, like the Storm Lake native, get the best treatment available.