Friday, May 03, 2013

TOP STORY >> Mom recalls son’s fight for life

Leader staff writer

Dakota Hawkins of Cabot was 15 years old when he died March 2, 2006, after a four-year-battle with leukemia.

The story of his fight, aided by his little brother Riley, who donated his bone marrow twice, was chronicled in The Leader and now it is told in a book about eight young people whose wishes were granted by the Make-A-Wish Foundation called “Once Upon a Wish.”

Author Rachelle Sparks interviewed 50 families before selecting the ones to be in her first book.

“Though Dakota is gone, his spirit is still very much alive, and that is the reason I chose his story for my book,” Sparks said Friday afternoon in an e-mail. “I wanted to capture that spirit and share its inevitable hope and inspiration. So much can be gained by reading Dakota’s story — the family’s faith and determination throughout his difficult journey has the power to change lives. Dakota’s outlook on life while battling cancer can provide a new outlook for us all.”

Dakota’s fulfilled wish was the John Deere Gator that he was using when he killed his first buck, his mother Sharon Hawkins said. The family still uses it and his mother says she realizes now that he planned it that way.

Here is Sharon Hawkins’ story:

About two years ago, I was contacted by the Make-A-Wish Foundation asking if my family and I would be willing to share our son and brother, Dakota Hawkins’ unique wish, a John Deere Gator all-terrain vehicle and the details of how his wish become a reality. For us, sharing his wish would mean to share a part of his heart and the spiritual journey that shaped it.

A few months passed and I was contacted by author Rachelle Sparks from San Diego, Calif. We began planning her trip to Arkansas to interview our family. Finally, we would get to meet the lady who was traveling all over the United States to interview not only our family, but seven other families whose children were also recipients of a remarkable wish from the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Mrs. Sparks would witness early on the amazing commonality these children share in their fearless abilities to fight, inspire and strengthen all of us while fighting a life-threatening disease.

On a Friday afternoon, Mrs. Sparks drove up after making the long flight from her California home. Our family greeted her outside, where she returned the greetings with a handshake and a warm smile.

I noticed instantly her eyes showed kindness, sympathy and respect. I would soon realize she not only was trustworthy to share our greatest joys and deepest pain but would witness her spirit of encouragement.

As we gathered at the dinner table to share a traditional Friday night meal that Henry had grilled, we held hands while Henry blessed the food and our time of sharing. After dinner, we invited our guest into the living room and got comfortable. With laptop in hand, Mrs. Sparks lead the way in attempting to capture the personality of the little boy we loved so much. About an hour had passed and it was obvious she was grasping Dakota’s personality, character, his incredible will to live and to fight and his faith.

My greatest concern was Riley, whose pain was evident in his voice and on his face, yet often broken by laughter from a fond childhood memory he would recall. One example was all those John Wayne movies where they would dress the part, pretend and film the scene where Riley (little brother) was the sidekick and Dakota always had to be the John Wayne, the last one standing.

Riley had always chosen to handle his grief privately. I silently prayed the prayer I had uttered for months that this experience would be therapeutic. We had all come to a consensus that we wanted Dakota’s story in written form and to continue to share his character as a testimony, but it was evident the pain would wear on all of us as we shared.

Before we knew it, it was midnight, and we were all spent emotionally and physically. Henry and Riley bid us goodnight and Mrs. Sparks and I had quiet conversation until the wee hours of morning.

I even shared a part of my personal endeavor with her about the chapters I had penned over the years and set aside. She listened attentively, gave me some good advice and encouraged me to pick up where I had left off.

In the year following our interview, we conversed many times on the phone, refining the story, confirming dates, fine-tuning details, while I attempted to teach a city girl how to understand the life of a deer hunter, the purpose of a deer stand, crossing creeks in an ATV and the passion our son had for nature. We exchanged e-mails regularly, and the editing process took over a year and often became emotionally taxing.

Last August, the collection of stories went to the publisher at BenBella Books in Dallas, having captured successfully Dakota’s spirit. The book, “Once Upon A Wish,” debuted in bookstores in early March.

The book can be purchased locally at Spiritual Gifts in Cabot, in stores where books are sold, downloaded on Kindle or on Amazon at