George was a perfectly healthy teenager. And then he wasn’t.
In February 2020, he started experiencing back pain. Then he had trouble breathing. An x-ray showed his left lung had turned white and, whatever that was, it was moving toward his right lung.
He ended up in intensive care for 10 days and was put on a ventilator. He had to have fluid removed from his lungs, and that resulted in a partially paralyzed diaphragm, according to his mom, Linda.
In July, doctors said George’s condition was due to COVID.
In November, both of George’s arms swelled. He had trouble seeing. Linda took him to Riley Hospital for Children, where he was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia, a disease typically diagnosed in men middle age or older in which the bone marrow makes too many white blood cells. He had cancer cells in his spinal fluid. He became diabetic. Asthma flared up.
He was on several meds, with doctor’s appointments 2-3 times a week. He required regular spinal taps until the cancer was gone. And he needed a stem cell transplant – which he got from his older brother, Demitri.
“It was unbelievable,” Linda said. “I was afraid to leave his side. If I would try to go get a cup of coffee, I’d hear ‘code blue’ and it’d be George.”
George’s illness affected the family too. Linda had to leave her job to care for him – “I didn’t want to leave him because he was always needing something and needing a parent present to be his advocate” – and the family finances suffered. She also felt overwhelmed.
She found a cancer support group that helped. And then she found A Kid Again.
“Even though he’s a big kid – he just turned 18 in September – he missed pretty much three years of his life,” Linda said. “Three of the most important years. I wanted to give him some normalcy because not only were we dealing with cancer and a transplant, we were also in a pandemic.”
Through A Kid Again, they went to the zoo for the first time in many years and attended Harvest Nights at Newfields. They had planned to participate in an early Halloween Adventure with A Kid Again, but they had to miss it due to George’s football game.
Yes, George is now healthy and playing high school football. He plays on the offensive line and, because he goes to a small school, he sometimes plays on the defensive line too.
Linda had been worried about him playing, but “I spoke with the Riley team and they said let him play,” she said. “If that’s what he wants to do with everything he’s been through, let him do it.”
George said he’s feeling good and happy to be playing football.
“I did feel like I wanted to give up at a certain point in time, but a lot of people around me helped me get through it,” he said. “The Riley support staff did a lot. I can’t really sum it up, but they did a lot for me.”
Linda is relieved, of course. Happy her son is healthy and pleased that A Kid Again is allowing George to be, well, a kid again.
“I wish I would have found A Kid Again a little bit sooner,” Linda said. “But as a parent, when you’re going through this, my focus was him getting well. He needed to remember, and Riley was very good at reminding him, that he is a kid. That this is a childhood illness. Programs like this help make things happen that otherwise probably couldn’t happen. That’s what I appreciate about it.”