I became a parent on July 23rd, 2015. It was the day my life most drastically changed. My purpose was no longer about my own well being or desires but more about the well being and growth of my son.
Nelson became a big brother on April 6th, 2018. Ford Michael Hunter was named after his grandfather Bradford, my wife Hannah’s father. While Nelson looked very much like I did as a child, Ford was Hannah’s for sure. He has big blue eyes and curly strawberry blonde hair. Many have mistaken him for a girl because he gained his attractive features from his mother.
Friday, February 22nd, we noticed Ford was not pulling his left leg to his chest when he crawled. I wasn't too concerned, but Hannah asked me to call the doctor’s office. She took Ford to see the pediatrician on Saturday morning. His doctor recommended x-rays just to make sure nothing was broken.
On Sunday, February 24th, after the service at Calvary Baptist Temple, I took Ford over to Optim Orthopedics where Dr. David Palmer set us up for x-rays. The PA thought it was worth going to get bloodwork done. So Ford and I left Optim and went straight to Candler’s lab. At this point, I still wasn’t concerned. Dr. Palmer called my cell phone at 6:04 p.m. on Sunday to tell us the bloodwork was very concerning. Ford’s white blood cell count was high along with some inflammatory markers. Dr. Palmer’s recommendation was to head to the ER.
We spent the next four days in Candler Hospital running tests, MRIs, sonograms and more bloodwork as two doctors and an awesome staff of nurses monitored Ford. Wednesday, 2/27 we were finally released from the hospital. Ford’s labs had shown improvement, and the doctors felt good knowing the antibiotics he was taking were working.
Friday, March 8th, Ford came home with a fever, and we went back to our pediatrician. While the doctor was concerned that Ford tested positive for both Type A and B flu, what was more concerning was the size of his knee. It was swollen on the same side as the left hip that had caused issues the few weeks prior. Back to the ER we went, and more test followed.
After Ford’s second MRI on Wednesday, March 13th, Dr. Siegall saw enough fluid that he felt it was time to operate. They made a small incision above Ford’s left knee and flushed the pockets of fluid seen in the image. A drain was inserted and left in for 24 hours post surgery.
What was the most frustrating for us as parents was that we had no identifiable cause for the issues our young son was having. At that point, Ford spent five and a half days in the hospital, had seen six different doctors, had two MRIs, four x-rays, two sonograms, and countless blood tests with very little to show for it. Dr. Rowlett prepared Hannah and I to understand why they call medicine a practice. We would start the process of seeing specialists while ruling out different possibilities.
The toughest night for me was not one of the nights in the hospital. It came on April 1st when we saw Dr. Brown at Memorial. The first possibility to rule out was leukemia. Dr. Brown is a Pediatric Hematology Medical Oncologist who said the word leukemia at least five different times in our visit with her. Ford took the needle like a champ and hardly cried as they pulled six more vials of blood. The doctor informed us that the test results wouldn’t come back until the following morning. The next day, I was scheduled to speak in chapel to the entire Upper School of 500 students. That night I attempted to focus on my presentation instead of the wandering thought of a possible cancer diagnosis. I receive the call at 9:13 a.m. on Tuesday morning that Ford did not have leukemia. I cried outside the Worship Center as the student praise band finished their last song, sent my wife a text to give her the info, then walked on stage to share my story with the Cavalier student body.
While ruling out cancer was a huge sigh of relief, our next step was to leave Savannah and travel to Augusta University Medical Center to see a pediatric rheumatologist. Dr. Lauren Newhall spoke confidently that Ford had a rare form of juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA). JIA was previously called juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, or JRA. JIA is not contagious, and the term she used was “manageable.” There is not a cure, so the diagnosis is likely a lifetime of medication for Ford. We still have a lot of unanswered questions, and Ford is scheduled for a follow up in Augusta on June 4th. I am thankful we have a direction and treatment plan in place.
Ford is a tough name. He has lived up to his name through this process, taking everything in stride. While getting blood drawn or flushing his iv wasn’t his favorite, he maintained a pleasant demeanor a majority of the time. The nurses and doctors gave him extra attention because he interacted with each person he met. He was constantly smiling. Spending all that time in the hospital was exhausting, but Ford was lifting my spirits on a regular basis. I found peace in the fact that Ford wasn’t getting down, so how could I?
The Lord blessed us with a Calvary family who has showered us with love over the past three months. We’ve had meals, flowers, an edible arrangement, treats, and countless people asking how they can help. Dr. Taylor beat the on call doctor to the hospital that first night in February and was holding Ford in the ER when the orthopedic surgeon examined our son. My parents kept Nelson everytime I called, so he was in good hands. Hannah’s mother took some time to stay with us after Ford’s surgery so Hannah and I could go back to work. One of my childhood friends opened his home to us in Augusta. His expecting wife even treated us an amazing home-cooked meal.
While none of the extra support was expected, it has been greatly appreciated. To be honest, we have struggled, but the Lord has prepared a path for us to follow. The friendships and help we have received has been a blessing. I want to thank all who have prayed for my family. The love we’ve felt has been overwhelming. This process has confirmed that we are right where we are meant to be.
Gordon Hunter is the Director of Development for Calvary Day School. He believes that all Christians are called to give: give of your talents, time and resources. Deuteronomy 16:17 “Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the LORD your God which he has given to you.”