The San Diego Brain Tumor Foundation (SDBTF) would like to introduce their new Ambassador, Mark Merila of the San Diego Padres. Mark welcomes this opportunity to speak about his journey with a brain tumor and to spread the word of SDBTF.
Mark suffered a grand mal seizure for the first time on the field during his first baseball game in his senior year at the University of Minnesota.. After several tests, Mark was diagnosed with a brain tumor. The biopsy showed that it was a Grade II astrocytoma. As a two-time All American second baseman and a member of the 1993 USA baseball team, Mark refused to allow his brain tumor to interfere with his baseball career. He continued to play the remainder of his senior season and was drafted by the San Diego Padres in the summer of 1994.
By the start of Mark’s second minor league season, he received news that the tumor had grown. The medical staff at the University of Minnesota decided it would be best for Mark to undergo radiation. Miraculously, the tumor remained stable following the treatment, and Mark did not require any medications for seizures; his only course of treatment was a yearly MRI. In November of 2004, his MRI showed that the tumor had been stable for almost 10 years. Mark and his family rejoiced in this wonderful news, not expecting what could lie ahead.
Only a short seven months later, Mark was traveling with the Padres to New York for a series against the Mets. He was on the subway heading to the game when he experienced his second grand mal seizure. The doctors discovered that tumor had grown so suddenly that there was cause for concern over the potential aggressive nature of the tumor.
After a month of meeting with several experts and comparing their sobering opinions, the Merila family settled into UCLA for treatment. The tumor was still inoperable, but UCLA felt that they could perform radiation on it once again.
In September of 2005, as the Padres battled for the playoffs, Mark began his radiation treatment. He had radiation twice a day for four weeks, but still managed to join the Padres on the weekends for limited catching practice. He remained stable for six months when the tumor began to change. This change caused side effects that he had not experienced before; slight vision loss in his right eye, decreased movement in the right side of his body in his hand and foot, speech problems, mobility issues, weight gain, and other issues. Mark was put on a new experimental drug called Avastin and started taking steroids and shots twice a day for blood clots while continuing with his seizure, chemo and heart medications. He continued on this path throughout the remainder of 2006 and 2007. The road was rough, with periods of time when Mark could only get out of bed for treatment.
Things turned around in 2008 and although Mark has not totally regained use of his right hand or leg, he continues to try to live a normal life. The doctors have gradually eased his medications and his condition continues to remain stable. He is able to go to the Park and help the Padres as one of the Bullpen Catchers, even if it is only to watch and support. The Merila’s are so grateful for family and friends and for organizations like The San Diego Brain Tumor Foundation.
“We feel blessed to have their (SDBTF) support and feel they are big part of why we are at the place where we are today. We cannot thank them enough for all they do for the local community who are also struggling with the effects of a brain tumor” said Wendy Merila, Mark’s wife.
Mark and his wife, Wendy, make their home in San Diego with daughter Brooke (8), sons Boston (6) and Brody (4).