Sunday, March 22, 2009

For the love of Hunter: Death comes calling but his father saves the day with his special link to son

Six-year-old Hunter of Sumner County is most blessed to have two great parents and an outstanding older sister at Belmont University who love him dearly.

But Papa John and Hunter have a kind of second nature-thing going; they seem to know what the other is thinking and feeling before the other can say a word. That's wonderful, but you can tell from Dad's face how tough it has been for him to watch his son experience all the travails and unfairness of childhood leukemia.

Yet that closeness just paid off most preciously, in saving Hunter's life when all the extra-ordinary chemo he had been receiving combined to lower his white cell count to dangerous levels while his body was losing blood.

Together, these factors allowed the kind of bacteria we all possess in our bodies to act and put Hunter at death's doorstep.

With leukemia, these things happen so fast -- even if you're watching the person 24 hours a day. I know. That is what almost killed me more than two years ago.

We all have bacteria inside us. And our white cell count usually is high enough to keep it in check. But extra-ordinary chemo, when it clicks, starts killing all the cells. And Hunter's treatment may have been too effective while his bone marrow still was not producing enough white cells.

On this particular day, Dad had come home early from his landscaping business and his second nature kicked in. He somehow discovered that Hunter had been losing blood when he went to the bathroom with diarrhea. When you're on intense chemo, your bowels don't work well anyway. And so diarrhea is not unexpected.

But after Dad discovered the blood and his second nature kicked in as to what his son really could not tell anyone about how he was feeling, the parents rushed Hunter to Vanderbilt, which is a 90-minute trip. And Hunter fought the fight of his life for two and a half days in ICU.

Hunter is back home now. He is eating and is picking up his strength again. His return to the chemo will be determined by doctors this week. His eventual exit from this extra-ordinary period of chemo will mean he can go on a regular regimen of drugs as I take for leukemia.

Then, his return to a normal life will be virtually guaranteed, and father and son can take up more of the usual challenges -- like changing bike chains and breaking in a new baseball glove.

Pray for Hunter and his family that much better days are ahead.

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