An 11-year-old from North Pole, Alaska, needs a life-saving operation. A church raises money, his divorced parents put aside their differences to see him through the ordeal, and just before Christmas, the lad comes to New York for sightseeing followed by brain tumor surgery at a hospital on 34th Street.

You saw the movie, you say?Nope. That wasn't Macaulay Culkin gee-whizzing at the top of the Empire State Building. It was Chris McMahan, 11, who really does live in Alaska, and who really came to Gotham with his parents to undergo a life-and-death operation.

Chris had surgery Tuesday at NYU Medical Center. He has suffered since birth from the tumor, known as neurofibromatosis, or "elephant man's disease." He isn't disfigured, except for a neck growth that will be removed.

The dramatic circumstances notwithstanding, Chris is just a "very normal boy," excited by his first visit to New York, his mother, Kathy Russo, said on the eve of the operation. "He's been bouncing off the walls."

The boy lives part time with his mother in Fairbanks and part time with his father, James McMahan, in the nearby suburb of North Pole.

"Over 10 years, 75 doctors told us there was no hope - that the best we could hope for was that he would be a vegetable," Russo said. "I said, `Hello - that's my son you're talking about.' "

View Comments

Dr. Fred Epstein, McMahan's surgeon at New York University Medical School, said the condition was rare in children of his age. Without an operation, Chris would be paralyzed and die within a few months, Epstein said. He already had been seriously weakened in his arms and legs.

"There's a 15 to 20 percent chance of him being severely injured by the surgery. But if it succeeds he'll have a 90 percent chance of regaining full functions, free of any symptoms," Epstein said.

Before the surgery, Chris made a grand tour of Manhattan, delighting in the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, the toy displays at FAO Schwarz, and the Plaza Hotel, which he knew as the place where "Home Alone II" was filmed.

Russo said that after leaving the hospital, her son plans to see the Statue of Liberty - and the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. "That's where President Clinton stays," she said. "Chris is a big Bill Clinton fan."

Join the Conversation
Looking for comments?
Find comments in their new home! Click the buttons at the top or within the article to view them — or use the button below for quick access.