By STEPHANIE THOMPSON
People Editor 

GR family copes with diagnosis

 

December 6, 2017

Courtesy photo

Oct. 5, 2017, will forever be engraved in the Johnson family's minds as the day their lives changed.

Ashley Johnson said it was on that day when they found out her youngest son, James, 2, has Leukemia.

She said James had caught a cold and he just wasn't getting better. In fact, the cold turned into a double ear infection that wouldn't go away even after antibiotics were being administered. Ashley said she just knew something wasn't right. Usually, when James or one of her other children would start taking antibiotics for something, they would start getting better in two days. However, after a few days, James wasn't getting any better.

She took James back to the family doctor and from there, the tests started. Ashley said it went from finding out James still had a double ear infection and cold to maybe he had strep in his blood, which isn't common. The doctor was trying to rule everything out. Ashley said her doctor then told her she needed to take James to the Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County's emergency room so they could get blood and lab work done immediately.


When the lab work came back, they had an answer, but is wasn't something Ashley would have ever expected.

"It was definitely a shock," Ashley said. "It was like one of those Lifetime movies."

She said everything was in slow motion as the ER doctor told her. She said it was obvious the ER doctor was struggling to give her the news that her two-year-old boy had Leukemia, but the doctor did so and explained to Ashley what needed to be done next.

"I looked at her and just started bawling," Ashley said.

Everything was happening so fast, that Ashley didn't even have time to process what was going on before she was told they need to Life Flight James to Primary Children's Hospital in Salt Lake City. 

Ashley said as soon as the helicopter landed a team of six or seven people from the Oncology department of Primaries greeted them by name.

"They were so ready for us," she said.

The team had already been reviewing all of the blood and lab tests MHSC sent to them and had a plan of what tests needed to be done next and what the course of treatment might be.

"It was like a friendship. They wanted obviously what's best for him, but to make sure we as parents understand," she said.

The doctors wanted to make sure Ashley knew what was going on and to know she could ask any questions she might have. She had many questions to ask.

James underwent the first of many Lumbar punctures, which is similar to a spinal tap procedure they use to draw out some spinal fluid. They were checking to see if the Leukemia was in his bone marrow and spinal fluid also; and it was. They also checked James white blood cell count and determined they needed to get it as low as possible.


After all of the tests were done, on Oct. 6, James started his first day of chemotherapy.

"It was a quick turn around," Ashley said.

From that day on, James has had numerous Lumbar punctures, tests and chemotherapy treatments. Ashley said one positive it they are able to give James chemotherapy at home in liquid form. However, they still had to travel once a week to Utah for a much stronger dose of chemotherapy, which targets the spine, bone marrow and brain. 

On day 29 of treatment, the family was met with good news. James was in remission. The oncology team had met their first goal. Ashley said while James' white blood cell counts are back to normal, he's still considered to be at risk for the Leukemia to come back. 

They are now in phase two of the treatment. Ashley said they could technically stop the treatment, but the doctors strongly recommended that they do not or the Leukemia could come back and it would most likely come back even worse. For the next three to three and a half years, James will be undergoing treatments.

Ashley said they are on an eight-to-nine-month plan right now, which includes at-home chemotherapy and weekly trips to Salt Lake City for another type of chemotherapy.

On Dec. 12, they will switch to phase three, which is chemotherapy at home and running labs before going to Utah for additional chemotherapy. The lumbar punctures will also continue, but they will not be as frequent.

Ashley is currently a nursing student at Western Wyoming Community College and she plans to obtain her associate's degree in nursing. She said that even though James is sick, she has one semester left and she wants to finish.

"It's life. You kind of just have to go with it," she said.

As for James, he's doing well.

"He's been OK. He hasn't had too many side effects," she said.

James has nausea and his hair is falling out, but he still has his energy and he is still up beat and happy. Because James was loosing his hair, they family decided to shave it. However, not only did James shave his head, but his father, Kenneth and his brother Robert, 6, shaved his too. They wanted to show James it was OK to have short hair.


Ashley said she thinks James is doing so well because Robert and his sister Savannah, 7, play games with him all of the time.

"He has not lost his spirit at all," Ashley said.

Ashley has remained positive throughout the whole process.

"I just lean on my faith. God only gives us what we can handle," she said.

Fundraisers

Although Ashley and her family are enduring the emotional toll this has put on the entire family, they are starting to battle the financial toll. Ashley said her jaw literally dropped when she saw how much the helicopter flight cost. It was then that she realized the family would need to ask the community for help.

The family has set up a Facebook page called Prayers for James. There family members, friends and residents can find out how James is doing and what fundraisers are coming up.

They family has also set up a Go Fund Me account at http://www.gofundme.com/636x9j-prayers-for-james

Ashley's church friends are selling T-shirts to raise money for James. To buy a T-shirt go to https://www.customink.com/fundraising/wear_orange_for_james

Another way to help out is to visit the Rock Springs Sunset Boulevard McDonalds on Dec. 14 from 5-7 p.m. McDonald's will be donating a portion of sales made through those hours to the family.

All of the money raised through these fundraisers will help cover medical and traveling expenses.

 

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