Great Lakes Credit Union and Little Lake County are proud to bring you “Kirby’s Kids: Little Hands, Big Hearts.” This program recognizes an extraordinary child each month and brings you their stories of determination, hope and goodwill.
When you are four years old, life should be all about playdates, your favorite toys, and snuggles from your mom. Life should be simple, carefree and fun. When a little boy named Jack started preschool, things were turning out to be drastically different from the life his parents envisioned. In many ways, his days turned from idyllic, to something out of a nightmare, but in other ways, a boy emerged from the darkness like no one could have imagined. A strong, determined survivor, who would never give up, and who melted hearts along the way.
Preschool started like all other first days of school with pictures, excitement and a lot of fanfare. Jack headed off to his second year of preschool with his twin sister Mackenzie, his good friends, and a lot of hopes for a fun year. The year was going along great, but Jack was experiencing some pain, and some days, it was worse than others. The pain was in his back, and his mom, Vickie, took him into the doctor to get it checked out. The doctor did not seem worried, and promised that it was just some growing pains and would go away soon.
Vickie left feeling satisfied, but much to her concern, the pain did not go away. The weekend before Thanksgiving, Jack attended a birthday party at a local gymnastics facility for one of his good friends. After having some fun at the party, he fell onto his back and could not seem to shake the pain. Crying and struggling with managing the pain, Vickie knew something was seriously wrong. That week, she kept him home from preschool because his pain was so bad and the day before Thanksgiving, they headed into the doctor, ready to demand some answers. The doctor checked him out, and decided to take a blood test. They headed home, hoping to hear the test was clear, but also to get some answers on what was bothering him.
The phone call that they received later that day, would change their life forever. Jack’s blood test came back showing very low white and red blood cells, and a very low platelet count. They were instructed to go to Lurie’s Children’s Hospital immediately for more answers. The diagnosis was Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.
Jack had cancer.
His life took an immediate turn. School took a back seat to basic survival during the most aggressive part of treatment. A fever didn’t only mean a day off of school for Jack like it did for most kids his age, it meant a trip to the emergency room, and a fight for his life. Friends became a support system to him instead of playmates, and his family life was turned upside down. Jack’s twin sister Mackenzie was shuffled to other people’s houses for care, while Jack spent countless hours being poked, prodded and treated with medicines he could barely pronounce. Jack’s treatment plan included a daunting 3 1/2 years of treatment, a number of years this little boy couldn’t even fathom. He couldn’t know at the time that during these long years he would endure over one thousand pokes, countless hospitalizations, several blood transfusions, many spinal taps, hair loss three times, monthly steroid treatments, and more chemo drugs than anyone would have ever imagined. Jack knows his story now, but at the time, his parents, Vickie and John, were conflicted with sharing some of the scary moments, or trying to keep him innocent. At one point, after a horrifying allergic reaction to a drug, the doctors told Vickie and John to prepare for the worst because “this could be it.” Vickie recalls that as the scariest moment of her life.
Although Jack’s life became anything but normal from the outside looking in, to him, it was just the way it was. He was an engaging patient, a bright and cheerful light to many who spent their days there. He developed many treasured relationships at the hospital with not only the nurses and staff, but other patients as well. One day, after another poke, the nurse placed a brown band aid over his skin. He was confused and asked her where the fun, character band aids were. The nurse informed him that this was all they had. He decided right then and there that this was not acceptable. He came home that day from the hospital and announced to his mom that he was going to raise money to get some colorful character band aids at the hospital. His mom loved the passion, and asked him what he planned to do in order to raise the money. Jack thought for a moment, and decided that a sushi and lemonade stand would be the perfect answer!
As a family, they decided to put this to action…minus the sushi, of course…and Jack’s lemonade stand was brought to life. A huge effort and undertaking by the family yielded some amazing results for other kids going through what Jack was going experiencing. The lemonade stand brought in thousands of dollars and over 6,000 character band aids to be donated to the hospital. This is a drive that the family still does to this day. It is near and dear to all of their hearts and has been so successful due to Jack’s determination and perseverance.
Those same qualities continued to help Jack fight this terrible disease, and he never sat back, allowing himself to be a victim. He worked tirelessly to spread awareness of the disease, becoming a spokesperson for the hospital, winning the boy of the year award for the Leukemia Lymphoma Society, speaking on the Eric and Kathy radio-a-thon, and attending countless galas and events to tell his story and to raise money for cancer research. Jack’s goal was clear. A cure for cancer. Jack hoped that in the very near future, no child would have to go through what he was going through.
One of the family’s favorite organizations is the St. Baldrick’s Foundation. When Jack was newly in treatment, he decided he wanted to shave his head for the cause. Despite the fact that his hair was almost all gone already due to the chemo drugs, Jack took to raising money, and he, along with his father and several supportive cousins and uncles, shaved their heads for charity. It was a cathartic experience for them all, and one they have continued every single year.
Slowly, but surely, life started to become more normal. Jack was able to hang out with friends. He had more time at home and at school than at the hospital. Intense chemo treatment turned into maintenance treatment, and before long, treatment as a whole was coming to a close. Jack was a survivor.
He made it.
Jack was a completely different person as treatment ended, physically and emotionally. That little tiny preschooler was a more grown up boy wrapping up second grade, and during the last few years, had experienced much more than most children his age. Jack was in remission, treatment was over, but life would never be the same.
Jack is still doing well today, and is an eleven-year-old full of life and energy. He is a typical growing boy, who loves soccer, football and hanging with this friends. He is a remarkable young man, with a wonderfully supportive family. Jack’s parents, who he says will always have a heroic status in his eyes, were there through it all with him, and are amazed every day by Jack. He still experiences side effects from all the chemo drugs, and Jack and his family will always struggle with the trauma of the emotional roller coaster they went through for so long. Jack’s parents sometimes let their mind wander and wonder what Jack’s life would have looked like if he was never touched by cancer. That thought doesn’t stick around for long though because in spite of cancer, and because of what he went through, Jack has become an amazing young man. Strong, sensitive, caring and empathetic, are just a handful of many positive words one can use to describe Jack. Jack cares deeply about those affected by cancer and it will always remain a cause near and dear to his heart.
Jack has showed us all what it means to truly be a survivor. This young man not only fought and won the battle against cancer, but he helped others along the way. He made a difference in so many people’s lives and still remains active in spreading awareness, raising money and speaking about his experience. He encourages us all to take a larger role in helping others and staying positive in the face of adversity.
Do you want to make a difference in the life of a child with cancer? You can help too! Jack and his family are very passionate about many organizations, but one in particular, stands out. The St. Baldrick’s Foundation is special to this family because all of the money goes strictly to find a cure for childhood cancers. The family participates in the events sponsored by this organization each and every year, and believe that it will be a part of their life for a long time to come. Check out the St. Baldrick’s Foundation for more information and to learn more about this amazing organization.
Each and every one of our Kirby’s Kids gets to meet Kirby the Kangaroo at their local Great Lakes Credit Union branch. Kirby met Jack at their local Round Lake branch and opened up a youth savings account in his name with a $50 starting balance, courtesy of Great Lakes Credit Union.
Do you know an inspirational, courageous or exceptional young person living in Lake County, (age 13 or under) who is serving as a role model in his or her community? Help us recognize these big hearts! Nominate a child for the Kirby’s Kid program.
Follow this link to complete a nomination form. If your nominee is selected we will contact you and/or the child’s guardian for inclusion in the Kirby’s Kids program.
For more information about the Kirby’s Kids, read our program introduction.
Disclosure: Great Lakes Credit Union is the paid sponsor of the Kirby’s Kids program.