Ty and his wife Sheena were a young couple living out their normal day-to-day lives in Northern Arkansas. They were expecting their second child and everything appeared very normal as they enjoyed an evening of video games together at home. Suddenly Sheena began to bleed. They didn't panic and felt this may be a normal part of the pregnancy but decided to get it checked out any way. Sheena headed for the Emergency room and Ty stayed home with their 2 year old, Kayley. Ty and his daughter fell asleep as they waited for news from the emergency room. Late in the evening they were awakened by Sheena's mother with terrible news. The placenta had ruptured and both Sheena and their unborn child were in danger of bleeding to death. Ty rushed to the hospital and talked with the doctors. Time crawled as he waited for the doctors to decide what to do. Finally the decision was made to go ahead and take the unborn child 3 months early. It was the only way to have a chance at saving both of their lives.
Little Braxton weighed two pounds when he was delivered. The next several months were a big adjustment for Ty and Sheena. They struggled to learn what was normal and what wasn't for a child who was born 3 months early. There were a lot of trips to the hospital and when he first came home, Braxton was on oxygen for a while.
Ty said he always knew he should go to church. They refrained because Braxton was born premature and wasn't supposed to be in public due to a weakened immune system. Braxton grew and developed and life began to normalize. When he was nearly one year old Braxton began to pull himself up. He was trying to stand and everything looked normal. Ty thought the worst was behind them. Braxton was a very calm and easygoing kid. He never had to be spanked because he listened well.
After Braxton turned one he stopped trying to stand up on his own. Ty would try to lift him, but Braxton would hold his legs straight out in front of himself. He wouldn't try to stand anymore. Then he started to fall asleep while eating and seemed to be sleeping too much. Ty said he thought maybe this behavior was normal. He and his wife were still struggling with what was normal for a child who had been born 3 months prematurely. Braxton continued to develop symptoms though, and soon it was apparent that something wasn't right. Braxton began retaining water. His entire body appeared swollen and he developed a knot on his side, and one of his testicles developed a bluish appearance. They took him to the doctor. Tests were done and the news was horrible. Nothing could have prepared the young parents for the news they were about to receive. Little Braxton had cancer. Ty said: "you are somewhat prepared for your parents or grandparents to get cancer, but not your child. Especially when they are so young. He was just a kid with his entire life in front of him." The young parents were in shock as they struggled to deal with this new reality they found themselves in. The doctors told them that Braxton had Neuroblastoma high risk Stage 3. Neuroblastoma is cancer that starts in young nerve cells called neuroblasts. Normally, these cells become nerves that control a child's heartbeat and blood pressure. When a child has neuroblastoma, the neuroblasts never mature and they grow into tumors. These tumors often start in the nerves of the adrenal glands on top of the kidneys. This was the case with Braxton. The young family accepted their situation and began preparing themselves for what lay ahead by asking questions. They were all ready to get this behind them as they asked: What is the next step? High-risk neuroblastoma is treated with intensive chemotherapy, surgery, stemcell transplant and radiation.
Braxton was started on chemotherapy and Ty said he noticed improvement after the first round of treatment. The fluids began draining off, the blue testicle cleared up and Ty was convinced that the knot on Braxton's side was smaller. The cancer was aggressive however and the doctors prescribed higher doses of chemotherapy. Braxton began exhibiting behavioral changes due to his disease. One of Braxton's kidneys was being destroyed by a tumor. This was preventing his body from properly regulating his blood pressure. Braxton began screaming and pounding his head on floor for no apparent reason. Ty said that once the tantrum started, there was no stopping it. The young parents would try to comfort Braxton by holding him, which would only result in more kicking and screaming. Relief for Braxton and the frazzled parents finally came when Braxton's blood pressure was brought under control by medications. Ty said that the irritability and tantrums went away as soon as the medication was started and Braxton returned to his normal calm behavior.
The family was not going to church at this point because Braxton's immune system was weak due to the chemotherapy, and again he was not supposed to be in public. Ty said they finally decided to go to church anyway. He said there were times when they were taking Braxton to other places that he wasn't supposed to go, "so why not church?" "Something was telling me that we better get in there (church) and do what is right" Said Ty.
Braxton endured 6 months of intensive chemotherapy followed by two stem-cell transplants, but the cancer persisted. Ty was forced to watch his young son suffer through the horrible side effects of these treatments. "The worst came with the stem-cell transplants", said Ty. "He developed sores in his mouth and wouldn't eat and he threw up a lot". Little Braxton was a trooper though and became accustomed to the procedures. He would often hold his pick line up for the doctors and nurses when they came to draw blood or inject medications. He didn't cry when he was given shots and was a model patient. The staff at the hospital noticed and appreciated this behavior, and Braxton starred in a nurse training video produced by the hospital. Good behavior doesn't fight cancer though and Braxton's cancer was persistent. The doctors in Little Rock informed Ty and his wife that they had exhausted their resources and Braxton would need more specialized care if he was to survive. He was sent to Philadelphia for further treatment.
In Philadelphia Braxton underwent surgery where doctors removed as much of the cancer as possible. They also removed one of his kidneys. They kept him sedated for 3 days following the surgery. "The incision was 6-8 inch long and looked huge on his little body". Said Ty. The surgery went well and Braxton no longer required blood pressure medicine. The cancer was ever present though and now Braxton faced 20 rounds of radiation therapy back in Little Rock. "He developed sunburn marks and had diarrhea," said Ty. Sheena stayed with Braxton while he endured the radiation. Ty stayed at home with Kayley. "It was very hard being separated from them for so long." Said Ty. Braxton had to be sedated every day for radiation therapy and sometimes for scans. Braxton once again adjusted to his situation and developed a routine to help him cope with the stresses of treatment. One such coping mechanism was that when he woke from sedation everyday, he enjoyed the comfort of a familiar object. Namely, his "vroom vroom" cup or his Elmo cup. He would wake from anesthesia and say, "vroom vroom". Said Ty.
Braxton finished the radiation therapy and the family headed home for some much needed rest. Scans were scheduled in the coming weeks but now it was time for Braxton to recover from all of the treatments he had been receiving. The upcoming scans would tell if the cancer was in remission or if more treatment was going to be necessary. One day during this period, Ty came home about 5:00 to what should have been just another routine afternoon. Braxton was given a bath and Ty thought his lips might have been a little bit blue as Braxton was getting out of the bathtub. Ty didn't think too much about it though and went outside to pull some weeds from the garden. He returned a few minutes later to find Braxton shaking and his lips now dark blue. "By the time we got into the van he was entirely blue and shaking" Said Ty. "Within 30 minutes he had a temperature of 104 degrees." Braxton was rushed to the hospital where they determined he had an infection in his pick line. The doctors started him on IV antibiotics and gave him fluids. "It was very scary," said Ty "but by midnight he was up and playing. You can't keep him down."
Soon it was time to return to Little Rock for scans to check the progress of the treatment. The news at Little Rock wasn't good. The doctors said it appeared that Braxton's cancer was still active and there was nothing else they could do in Little Rock. The doctors also said that Braxton needed to be sent back to Philadelphia for confirmation. Braxton and his mother returned to Philadelphia. Ty waited at home fearing the worst. The word finally came and it was good this time. Braxton's cancer was now in remission. "I was expecting him to have to stay for intensive radiation or be on chemotherapy pills" Said Ty. "Now we just wait and see what the long-term effects will be on Braxton."
I found Ty to be a very humble man who is striving for a closer relationship with God. I asked him what he had learned from this experience. The following is his answer in his words.
We had help from many people, people who didn't know us. The biggest lesson I learned was when I walked into the hospital. There is always someone that has it worse. There was a baby born with its insides on the outside. In Philly there was a young girl who has something that has yet to be identified. I was feeling pretty sorry for myself for about a week after Braxton was diagnosed, until I got to Little Rock and saw what others were going through. The burn unit was horrible. There were premature babies who you can see their insides. I felt pretty crummy about myself then. According to nurses it is common for some parents to leave their kids there. Kids are adopted right from the NICU. The best advice I can give others is don't be selfish, no pity party, which you will do. The sooner you come out of it the better. If you cry "why me?" you are just making the situation worse. The experience made me mature faster biblically, spiritually, physically and otherwise. We even started eating better after Braxton was diagnosed. I made as many trips as possible to see him. My wife stayed with him in Little Rock. I decided the best thing that I could do is get right with the Lord. For the child and me.
Rest in peace Little Braxton
Braxton Wyatt Staggs
December 15, 2007 - November 11, 2010