A granddaughter’s health scare changes the outcome for generations to come

The call came on Mary Jane’s birthday, just as she and her husband, Bob, were walking out the door to go to dinner.

“‘Mom, you and Dad better head to the hospital. Olivia’s in emergency care,’” Mary Jane recites the exchange from memory. “I’ll never forget that call.”

Olivia was their 8-month-old granddaughter. She hadn’t been quite herself recently—she’d been lethargic and sleeping a lot. Her parents, Nikki and Todd, were told by two different doctors that she was fighting a virus and it would pass.

But on the afternoon of Mary Jane’s birthday, Nikki went to check on Olivia after putting her down for a nap. She found Olivia having a seizure and called an ambulance. Olivia was rushed to Cincinnati Children’s. 

“We didn’t know what to expect when we got there,” Mary Jane says. Her voice catches. 

Bob picks up the story for her. “But when we saw her, she was propped up in bed, looking like a beautiful baby doll—perfect in every way. She didn’t even look sick.”

They learned that fluid on Olivia’s brain had caused her seizure. The doctors had drained it off and, now, her family awaited a further diagnosis. 

A team of three doctors entered her room. Olivia had a brain tumor. She’d need surgery as soon as possible to remove it. 

Looking for a Better Way

In July 2005, Francesco T. Mangano, DO, fresh from a fellowship at another hospital, joined the renowned neurosurgery team at Cincinnati Children’s. Two months later, Olivia came through our doors. 

Today, Dr. Mangano is the Division Chief of Neurosurgery at Cincinnati Children’s. His team cares for patients with all types of brain and nervous system disorders, including the most rare and complex conditions. 

“Our program is one of the largest, most comprehensive in the United States,” says Dr. Mangano. “We offer families access to technology that’s only available at a handful of pediatric institutions worldwide. We’ve pioneered techniques to make neurosurgery as accurate, effective and as minimally invasive as possible.”

In fact, finding new ways to help kids with rare or complex neurological conditions—such as tumors deep in the brain or intractable epilepsy—is one of Dr. Mangano’s driving passions. 

“All any family wants is for us to help their child get better and thrive,” Dr. Mangano says, then pauses. “My vision is to continue to advance medical technology so we can treat very complex conditions in the brain successfully, without using really invasive procedures. I want more kids to go home happy and well.”

The Right Place at the Right Time

Hydrocephalus—fluid on the brain—is one of Dr. Mangano’s primary research interests. And it’s what brought Olivia into his care. 

“We were in the right place at the right time,” Mary Jane says. Her voice goes quiet. “Olivia was in one of the top children’s hospitals in the world, which just happens to be in our city. Dr. Mangano had just started there and had the expertise Olivia needed. It all seemed to just come together. We knew she was in the best place she could possibly be.”

Working hand-in-hand with her family, Dr. Mangano and his team began outlining every step of Olivia’s care, starting with the surgery to remove the tumor. It would be an intricate, delicate operation; each moment was planned using detailed images of Olivia’s brain. 

“The day of her surgery, we were all waiting at the hospital,” Mary Jane says. “Then Dr. Mangano came in and gave us the best news we could hope for—he was able to remove all of the tumor, it wasn’t malignant, and it was unlikely to come back.”

Today, Olivia is an active, spirited 13-year-old. She plays soccer and basketball and loves being outside.

“She’s a force of nature,” Bob says smiling warmly. He and Olivia have a very special bond. “What she went through, how hard she fought for herself, it makes her exceptional today. Her energy, her positive outlook—it’s because of what she survived as a baby.”

Paying It Forward

Bob and Mary Jane are no strangers to giving back. Through their Y.O.T. Full Circle Foundation, they support many different initiatives across the country, including several here at Cincinnati Children’s, such as our Israel Exchange Program and our StarShine Hospice music therapy program.

But they wanted to do more—something that would both honor Dr. Mangano and help Cincinnati Children’s advance neurosurgery so that more children could have happy, healthy lives.

After talking with Dr. Mangano and our leadership team, Mary Jane and Bob decided to give a gift that would create an endowed chair for neurosurgery.

Endowed chairs generate a permanent yearly stipend to support research and programs that advance care. The funds from the chair created by Mary Jane’s and Bob’s gift will be reinvested in Dr. Mangano’s research and clinical programs, helping advance neurosurgical care for more children.

Chairs also demonstrate that the medical center is committed to investing in the next generation of discovery. This helps us recruit and retain top experts who will pioneer future medical innovations.

“We wanted an ongoing way to honor the doctor and the hospital that saved Olivia’s life,” Mary Jane says. “This endowed chair was the perfect way to empower Dr. Mangano and his team to find new ways to save more lives.”

In August, Cincinnati Children’s held a small ceremony, officially announcing the creation of the Mary Jane and Bob Tritsch Family Endowed Chair in Neurosurgery. Mary Jane shared their story and their gratitude for the doctor who saved their granddaughter.

Afterward, Dr. Mangano rested his hand on the engraved wooden chair that symbolizes this gift, while Olivia smiled from the audience. “It’s incredibly humbling that the Tritsch family wanted to invest in my work and Cincinnati Children’s,” he said quietly. “Their generosity will impact lives for years to come.”