Friday, August 11, 2017

TOP STORY >> Boy beats leukemia

Leader executive editor

Roy Thomas of Cabot was driving his pickup truck Wednesday to Ronald McDonald House in Little Rock with five plastic bags of aluminum tabs in the back that weighed 120 pounds.

He and members of VFW Post 4548 in Jacksonville had been collecting the aluminum tabs for two years to show their appreciation to Ronald McDonald House.

Thomas said the people at Ronald McDonald were appreciative of his gift. “They’re very nice people,” Thomas said.

Thomas’ grandson, Tanner Varnadore, who is 11, had been a leukemia patient at Arkansas Children’s Hospital for three years. Tanner was diagnosed with leukemia in 2009, when he was 3 years old.

Over the next four years, he had chemotherapy and full-body radiation at Arkansas Children’s Hospital and a successful bone-marrow operation at Dallas Children’s Medical Center in 2013. He’s been cancer-free for four years.

He is going be a fifth grader at Cabot Middle School North this year.

Tanner had hundreds of shots through a port on his chest, his grandfather says. “It looks like a doorbell. It’s the size of a dime,” Thomas says.

Tanner had a relapse before his bone-marrow operation and spent six months at Arkansas Children’s Hospital covered by ARKids, the state-funded Medicaid program.

Tanner underwent the bone-marrow operation at Dallas Children’s Medical Center two months after Daniel Ashcraft, a FedEx driver from Eugene, Ore., put his name on a national registry as a possible donor.

Ashcraft, who was then 21, was found to be a perfect match for Tanner.

Ashcraft told Tanner’s family he wanted to make a difference and help someone in need.

Dr. Tiffany Simms-Waldrip, a hematologist and oncologist at the Pauline Allen Gill Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Children’s Health in Dallas, encourages people to follow Ashcraft’s example.

“There are a lot of rumors about how it can be painful to be a bone marrow donor, that you’re potentially undergoing a big surgery, and that’s not the case. Patients are able to donate in a couple of different ways, one being a procedure in an operating room where we take bone marrow from the hip, but the recovery time is not that bad,” the doctor said.

“It’s a relatively quick procedure, and a lot of patients are up and at it one to two days after they donate. They might be a little bit sore for a couple of days, but they generally do very well. If people are healthy and meet the criteria of being a potential donor, it’s a wonderful thing that you can potentially do for someone, especially for those who really need it and do not have donors available,” Simms-Waldrip said.

When doctors in Dallas found a match for Tanner, the family moved into Ronald McDonald House near the hospital in January 2013.

His mother, Tracie Wake-field, stayed there with him, as did his grandmother (Tracie’s mom), Kathy, and his brothers Dakota, 16, and Mason, 8. They paid $15 a day thanks to a fundraiser that Cabot residents organized for them before the operation.

Tanner’s family didn’t need to stay at the Ronald McDonald House in Little Rock because they could commute home to Cabot.

Tanner and his family stayed at the transplant wing at Ronald McDonald House in Dallas, where he underwent a bone-marrow procedure from January to May 2013.

Tanner stayed with them for much of the time they were in Dallas, except for the 45 days he was in the hospital undergoing the transplant.

“It’s an amazing hospital,” Tanner said, referring to Dallas Children’s Hospital. “It’s as big as UAMS.”

Ronald McDonald House, which was founded in 1974, does not charge patients and their families for staying at its facilities if they cannot afford the modest $15 a day fee.

There are 366 Ronald McDonald Houses in 64 countries accommodating 3,000 families a day.

This year is the 25th anniversary of Dallas Children’s stem-cell transplant program. September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

Tanner’s grandfather says, “He looks good.”

“He’s been a real trooper who’s gone through more than most adults,” Thomas adds.

Thomas, a retired Air Force master sergeant and a Vietnam veteran, spent 414 days in Vietnam.

“I counted everyone of them,” he says.

His grandfather said he also bought a flag pole for Ronald McDonald House.

According to a recent report, the highly rated charity gets about 20 percent of its revenue from McDonald’s. Other major sponsors include Coca-Cola (more than $500,000 a year), USA Today and Southwest Airlines. Several others give more than $100,000 a year.

“Tanner is doing great,” his mother said. “He looks like a perfectly healthy boy.”

She praised the staff at Arkansas and Dallas children’s hospitals for doing so much for Tanner and saving his life.

She also thanked, Ashcraft, the donor, for making Tanner’s recovery possible.

“He doesn’t need monthly checkups anymore at Arkansas Children’s Hospital,” his mother said. “He doesn’t have to go back for a year.”