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Turning Bad News into Good

September 25, 2009

 

Even though the cancer has spread throughout Noah’s body and he is on methadone and twice-a-day steroids to lower the pain, his courage and joy and exuberance and perseverance are miracles to witness.

 

September is Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month. If you click on the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital website (www.mottchildrenshospital.org), you can’t help but read that “Cancer is the leading cause of death by disease among U.S. children between infancy and age 15.” Approximately 11,000 new cases of pediatric cancer each year are expected to be diagnosed in children 0-14 years of age.

            Noah Scott Biorkman, a patient at Mott Children’s Hospital, was diagnosed with Stage IV Neuroblastoma in February 2007. According to the National Cancer Institute, “Neuroblastoma is a form of cancer that starts in certain types of nerve cells found in a developing embryo or fetus. This type of cancer occurs in infants and young children. It is most often found during the first year of life.”

            Noah was 2 ½ years of age in February 2007 when the neuroblastoma was first detected, only after x-rays taken when he complained of pain in his legs. After an aggressive regimen of chemotherapy, Noah went into remission in August 2007 but in September 2008, Noah relapsed with lesions in his right arm and right leg.

            Noah has spent as much time at C.S. Mott Hospital at the University of Michigan as he has at home. On June 4th, during an autograph session at the hospital, Brandon Inge, 3rd baseman for the Detroit Tigers, signed a picture for Noah and that night, Noah saw Brandon on TV during a Tigers game and became an instant fan. Noah watched every Tigers game after that and one day after his fifth birthday, during a fundraising for Mott Children’s Hospital, Brandon gave him a signed ball.

            “Then came the pain,” Noah’s mother wrote on her www.carepages.com website, “the bad scans, and the realization that Noah wasn’t going to make it.” Diana Biorkman admitted, “I asked him what he would like to do. His answer was to see Brandon again and ask him to hit a home run for him. I asked if there was anything else and he said that he would like to go to another game.”

            The hospital contacted Brandon’s wife, Shani, to tell her that Noah’s health was “rapidly deteriorating” and of Noah’s wish. When Brandon was told about Noah, he wanted to come and see him and a few hours before a Tigers home game, Brandon and Shani Inge stayed at the Biorkmans’ house for over two hours.

            “After Noah showed Brandon his room and his basement full of toys, they played,” Diana wrote. “Brandon signed a jersey for Noah and they exchanged friendship bracelets that Brandon is still wearing. Then, they built a pillow fort with every pillow in my house. Brandon sat in one end and Noah sat in the other. They hung out together, just the two of them” and Noah offered to share his superhero tattoos with Brandon and Shani’s two kids.

            That night, Brandon hit a home run during his first at-bat. Noah’s mom wrote, “Noah jumped up and down and yelled—He did it for me! He did it for me! Then he heard his name and he gave the look of wonder and turned to my mom and said, ‘I never thought I would hear my name on TV.’”

            In the moments after he homered, Brandon Inge broke down into tears in the Tigers dugout. “I lost it,” Brandon said. “I was crying. That’s never happened to me during a game before.” (“Tigers’ Brandon Inge gets emotional after HR,” John Lowe , Detroit Free Press, August 30, 2009) Lowe wrote that Inge’s 25th homer of the season and 121st of his career “seemed to have ascended near the top of his all-time list because of Noah.”

            The home run hit for Noah was not the first hit for an ailing child this year. On June 23, Inge visited Tommy Schomaker while he was recovering from heart-transplant surgery and that night, with “Tommy” written with a black marker on Inge’s arm, he hit a home run. “I got out of bed and jumped up and down,” Tommy said. (“Tigers’ Inge develops bond with pediatric patients,” Associated Press, September 2, 2009) “Disney couldn’t have written a better script,” Tommy’s father admitted. According to Mike Schomaker, “Kids were coming into the room with IVs, ‘Tommy, did you see your name? You’re on TV! You’re on TV!’ Then in the seventh inning, down 2-1 with one man on, Brandon hit a home run.”

            Brandon Inge has made more wishes and brought more joy to kids than he can imagine although he admitted, “My wife and I don’t do any of this for the publicity.” Because of the time and money that the Inges gave to help fund a $750 million, 1.1 million square-foot hospital for women and children, the hospital at the University of Michigan proclaimed September 2nd “Brandon and Shani Inge Day.”

            After the memorable home runs, Noah’s wishes continued to come true. He went to a few Tigers games, visited the Tigers clubhouse, gave 45 friendship bracelets to the entire Detroit baseball team, had his name announced on TV, was given the signed home run ball by Brandon, was featured with his mom and dad on ESPN, had a helicopter ride over Comerica Park before a game, spent more time at his home with Brandon and Shani, and was baptized a week before the golf outing in his honor.

            Even though the cancer has spread throughout Noah’s body and he is on methadone and twice-a-day steroids to lower the pain, his courage and joy and exuberance and perseverance are miracles to witness.

            Noah survived to make his Make-A-Wish golf outing on September 18th in Northville, Michigan. Although Brandon was in Minnesota with the Tigers that day, his wife, Shani, golfed with 103 others, all there to raise money for the Noah Scott Biorkman Foundation and Make-A-Wish. Raffled prizes included a Chris Osgood playoff hockey stick, signed jerseys from Miguel Cabrera and Brandon Inge, and the 2009 All Star bats signed and donated by Detroit Tigers All Stars, Curtis Granderson and Brandon Inge.

            Diana said at the golf outing that Noah understands his body is sick and that he will die and “become an angel.” Yet, she and her family know what a gift that they have been given and what a miraculous life Noah has led. 

            Because of heroes like the Inges, the doctors, nurses, and aids at Mott Hospital, because of the courage of Noah’s parents and family and the support of friends, the tragedy of a little boy struck with terminal cancer has become an incredible lesson about giving and love and making wishes come true.

            We don’t have to wait for the end of a boy’s life to know that angels are everywhere.

 

 

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