By AMANDA KIMBLE
STEPHENVILLE (August 26, 2016) – Less than a week after undergoing invasive surgery, Luke Nelson and his parents, Clint and Mia Nelson, were ready to make the trip home on Friday. The flightpath from New York City to the Dallas/Fort Worth area followed a dose of good news.
After a massive tumor was successfully removed from his small body Luke, 3, bounced back from surgery quicker than expected.
“The last drainage tube was removed today, and we are flying back to Texas tomorrow,” Mia said, as the couple spoke with The Flash by phone Thursday evening. “We were supposed be here for at least two weeks, but that was shortened to six days.”
The battle against Neuroblastoma, which is far from over, began for the Nelson family on April 22. The entire family had been sick with a stomach virus from which Luke didn’t recover. He had no appetite. He was fatigued.
A trip to see his local pediatrician quickly led to a heart-wrenching diagnosis and an aggressive treatment schedule – high doses of chemotherapy, surgery, stem cell extraction and transplantation and radiation treatments. After about four months, they have reached the middle of the journey.
The diagnosis was Stage 3 High Risk Amplified Neuroblastoma. The tumor presented complications for surgeons, leading the family to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and world-renowned pediatric surgeon Dr. Michael La Quaglia.
“Luke’s scans were sent to multiple oncology groups, surgeons and doctors who told us they wouldn’t be able to take out all of the tumor,” Clint Nelson said. “It was fully wrapped around arteries and veins, as well as his kidney and in underneath his heart.”
Luke’s immune system was also already compromised. His platelet count was low. He could bleed out on an operating table far from home.
“They were not expecting a good outcome,” Mia added.
But La Quaglia was willing to do something no other surgeon would. He would risk Luke’s life in an effort to give him another chance at living. In a matter-of-fact, emotionless tone, the surgeon told the couple he would “try” to remove the tumor.
“Without surgery, our child only had days, weeks to live and for him it was an everyday thing,” Mia said, adding she later understood the surgeon knew what he was doing and possessed a strong and silent faith that his hands would be guided by a higher power.
Knowing the risk, without being given reassurance or facts and figures related to the likelihood surgery would be successful, Clint and Mia anxiously awaited the outcome in a cold New York waiting room on Thursday, August 18.
Then came the news. After several grueling hours, the surgery was complete and La Quaglia wanted to speak to them. As simply as he said he would try to remove the tumor, he told Clint and Mia he “got it, everything he could find.”
Tears. Joy. Appreciation. Mia was overcome with emotion. She never expected the surgery to be a complete success. But she was sitting across the table from the best neuroblastoma surgeon whose career has touch many patients around the globe.
“He just pointed up,” Mia said, adding La Quaglia said the thanks was due to God.
During the family’s stay in New York huge strides on the road to recovery were made. But the Nelsons know the operation is one of several hurdles in a race that is expected to continue through the end of the year.
Chemo. Scans. And after Luke undergoes a stem cell transplant, he and Mia will remain in isolation for a month. It’s a process they will endure not once, but twice. They will not be able to see, touch or hug Clint or big sister Lilly or little sister Lila as they live in a plexiglass room.
As informed parents, Cline and Mia know Luke could suffer complications. But they also know God is on their side. They know Luke has already defied the odds.
“We have been very blessed,” Clint said. “HE (God) has blessed Luke.”
“In the Bible, it talks about finding the blessings in every circumstance,” Mia added, saying the journey has strengthened her. “The lesson for me is faith over fear. I have learned I cannot – should not – be afraid.”
Despite the road they are traveling, the couple doesn’t question the purpose of the journey.
“God has given us the opportunity to speak with countless families,” Clint said. “We have been living this reality for months and some of them have been living it for years. Some of them are as strong in their faith as we are, but some of them may need us to share the word of God, our beliefs and our story. This is our chance to minister to them.”
Hearts of Gold
Luke’s story could not be told without mention of the love and support they have been shown. People who they did not know just months ago have become friends. An entire community is standing behind them. As the fight continue so does the support, through prayers, encouragement and fundraisers.
Most recently, Luke was named Stephenville Yellow Jackets Heart of Gold recipient. The fundraising campaign began in 2009, benefiting the niece of Greg Winder. Fellow coaches rallied behind Winder’s family, offering support they fought their own battle against cancer, according to SHS Athletic Secretary Lisa Hughes.
Fast forward to 2016, and Winder, who is now head Yellow Jacket football coach, called the Nelson family to inform them Luke was named the 2016 honoree.
Since the inception of the Heart of Gold campaign, families of local children fighting chronic illnesses have benefitted from the program each year, and according to Hughes, the effort has added up to as much as $10,000.
Funds are primarily raised through t-shirt sales, and Hughes said order forms are expected to be sent home with Stephenville ISD students Monday. Other community members will have the chance to purchase their Heart of Gold t-shirts from Barefoot Athletics on West Washington Street, where they will be available the week of the game.
Hughes said in the past, community members have been known to order a t-shirt or two and attach $100 bill to their orders.
The Nelson family will also be honored on the gridiron by Stephenville Yellow Jackets on Friday, September 16.
The Heart of Gold campaign coincides with Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, raising awareness for children like Luke and the almost others 16,000 who are diagnosed with the disease each year.