The magic of the holiday season is all around us. In particular, it’s found in the smiles on children’s faces as they experience the wonder of it all: twinkle lights, music, expectations of Santa Claus, and “visions of sugar plums” dancing in their heads.
For some North Texas children, the season looks a little bit different.
Children who are battling disease (terminal, COVID-related, or other) don’t get to attend winter parties at school or go to the mall to meet Santa. They’re battling health challenges that detract from what might otherwise should be “most wonderful time of the year.”
Allow us to introduce you to Isacc, who lives in North Texas with his family. His 2021 holiday wish? To finish his cancer treatment before Christmas Day.
Diagnosed with leukemia just before his third birthday, Isacc has been cared for by team members in the Gill Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Children’s Health for almost half his life. Following a relapse in 2019, his clinical care has been overseen by the growing Oncology team at Children’s Medical Center Plano. He has spent about 50 nights in the hospital, had two rounds of radiation, and weekly chemotherapy treatments.
“I would say that he probably has felt bad for most or all of his treatment, and he never complains, said Brett, Isacc’s dad.
Karen, Isacc’s mom, agrees: “He has faced an overwhelming number of disappointments in his 11 years of life, and he continues to show kindness and compassion to others through it all. Isacc has had numerous allergic reactions to medications and blood products, and yet he faces each new dose of meds and the news of each additional transfusion with amazing courage and confidence in himself and his nurses and doctors to get him through whatever hurdle may come. He is strong beyond his years.”
In Plano, Isacc’s family found Child Life specialists who helped him with spelling homework during in-patient stays, and clinicians who chatted about Dallas Cowboys football during chemotherapy treatments.
During a June clinic appointment, Isacc’s care team surprised him with balloons, cake, and a Cowboys cap after his and his brother’s adoptions were finalized, officially making Karen and Brett their parents.
Isacc spent his last two birthdays, Thanksgivings, and Christmases at Children’s Health. Children’s Health took the time and care to go the extra mile in a small but mightily impactful way.
“Our first holiday inpatient was Thanksgiving 2019,” Karen said. “We ended up in a room without a working TV, and ALL Isacc cared about was getting to watch the Cowboys play on Thanksgiving Day. The nursing staff went out of their way to make sure he was able to watch the game on Thursday, in a private family lounge where the 4 of us were able to be together and eat pizza while the Cowboys played… all while Isacc was hooked up to a pole getting chemo. “
But what about Christmas for kids like Isacc? What is it like being at the hospital for Christmas?
“It’s not fun,” Isacc says. “It’s an experience, but you’re sick and tired and sleepy and you don’t have energy to do anything, not even eat or sit up. You have to wait to open all of your presents with your family until you get home.”
Karen, Isacc’s mom, recalls the stark contrast between Christmas in 2019, and Christmas in 2020, as we approach Christmas in 2021.
“In 2019, before COVID, it wasn’t so bad because our whole family was able to be together at the hospital,” Karen said. “The boys had a visit from Santa, and both received a ton of gifts which they loved. But in 2020, Isacc and I had to go to the hospital on our own and be apart from my husband and younger son. That was pretty miserable.”
Yet Children’s Health and the Child Life specialists rolled up their sleeves again, just as they did for Thanksgiving.
This December, carolers sang holiday tunes down the hospital hallways, and there were even presents and a visit from Santa.
“They really do make the best of a pretty tough situation for a kid,” Karen says. “Isacc has always loved walking through the halls and seeing all of the Christmas wreaths and trees decorated and sponsored by various individuals and organizations. It just gives him something new and fun to look at and look forward to after so many weeks of the same hospital.”
While it’s not fair that Isacc’s life experiences have been largely confined to a hospital, it’s wonderful to know there are love-filled facilities who aspire to make the season magical for their patients.
How can YOU help kids in need this Christmas?
This holiday season, we can help bring the magic of the season to kids like Isacc through generosity of heart. Consider partnering with one of the following local charities or children’s hospitals this season, be it with monetary donations, handmade cards, or tangible gifts.
It gives “making spirits bright” a whole new meaning.