‘Close to a miracle’ may keep high school senior alive

A gioblastoma multiforme, the most common brain cancer doctors diagnose in humans and the deadliest, has brought Leah Goldberg here.

To a bed in Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center.

She is 18, a senior at Northwest Career and Technical Academy, a teen who dreams of working with exotic animals one day. She has not talked in days.

Dr. Alan Ikeda, director of oncology with the Children’s Oncology Center of Nevada, has ordered a new round of chemotherapy for his young patient. Only something “close to a miracle,” he said Thursday, can keep her alive for long.

Ikeda said doctors have no idea why the tumor occurred in Leah. In Western countries the incidence of the cancer is between 2 and 3 per 100,000 people. The median survival rate is between 12 and 15 months. It has one of the worst five-year survival rates of all cancers.

Off to the left of her daughter’s bed is a blanketed ledge that her distraught mother, Gabi Goldberg, now calls home, where she tries to get some sleep during this nightmare.

Though she holds back tears, the dark circles under her eyes cry of exhaustion.

“I can’t imagine losing her,” she said of her sleeping daughter.

At the head of Leah’s bed is the chair where her father, Alan Goldberg, who flew in from his home in Hawaii, sits and surfs the Internet on his laptop, trying to learn all he can about the tumor that has caused his daughter’s terrible seizures.

Seated next to the bed is 20-year-old Austin Hille, who took Leah to her senior prom earlier in the month. Hille, a College of Southern Nevada student, said he can’t believe the girl he had a terrific time with at the prom, who acted goofy with him “by deliberately not dancing to the beat,” is now so ill.

“This shows how precious life can be,” he said. “We thought her problem was over, that she was in recovery. She was so strong and so happy. That’s what attracted me to her when I first met her at a restaurant, how happy she was.”

It was two years ago when Gabi Goldberg found her daughter stretched out on the bathroom floor, teeth clenched during a massive seizure that left her temporarily paralyzed on her right side.

A blur of medical interventions followed the initial 9-1-1 call and an ambulance trip to Summerlin Hospital.

Leah had surgery and radiation at UCLA in Los Angeles to remove as much of the tumor as possible. She also had months of chemotherapy, which ended this spring. On an MRI in March, the tumor which had kept Leah doing her schoolwork at home appeared to be gone.

But Leah suffered another seizure last Saturday. This time when her mother dialed 9-1-1, an ambulance took her to Sunrise.

Danielle Garcia, a long-time friend of Gabi Goldberg, has watched the divorcee struggle emotionally and financially since her daughter became ill two years ago. Leah has Medicaid medical coverage.

“So much of the time she has to be with Leah 24-7 so she had to give up a full time job as a massage therapist,” Garcia said. “It really has been a tough time for her.”

To help her friend, Garcia, a spiritual counselor, is sponsoring a Heal-a-Thon Sunday at the the Enchanted Forest Reiki Center from 1 to 5 p.m. at 800 N. Rainbow Blvd., Suite 100. More than a dozen holistic healers who do everything from energy work and sound therapy to massage and readings will donate all proceeds to the Goldberg family.

Ikeda said he prays that the new chemotherapy he’s started for Leah Goldberg buys her some time.

“What we’re giving her is not curative. We’re trying to stop the progression of the tumor. I’m just hoping we can get her to her graduation (June 12 at the Orleans Arena) in a few weeks.”

Contact reporter Paul Harasim at pharasim@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2908.