Great things happen to children when they have Spider-Man blood. At least, that’s what 6-year-old Noah Thompson believes.
The pint-sized superhero fan is in the first few weeks of his two-year treatment for leukemia. Nurses have told him he must have the blood of Spider-Man, his favorite character, because he has been so brave during all the tests, blood draws and biopsies he has endured so far.
Two months ago, Jeff and Gina Thompson were watching their active kindergartner playing outside and enjoying his trampoline and swing set.
During Christmas break, however, they noticed he was pale, bruised and lacking his normal energy. They became even more concerned when he stopped eating and wanted to take frequent naps, and Gina Thompson’s motherly instinct told her something was wrong.
A visit to the pediatrician started the Winter Garden family on a journey no family wants to take. After a battery of tests, an emergency trip to the hospital and even more tests — Noah was diagnosed with B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia Jan. 20.
Gina Thompson said doctors at AdventHealth for Children are optimistic since the cancer was discovered early.
“He had only 70% cancer (in the bone marrow), and most cases they find 100%,” she said. “His blood had 10 to 20% cancer — leukemia-wise, those are good numbers. But it’s very fast acting so they had to step on treatment right away. … He had a bone marrow biopsy and spinal tap and a shot of chemo in the spine as a preventative.”
Doctors ordered a blood transfusion and three bags of platelets, too. Noah spent nine days in the hospital before returning home.
“In the hospital, they say motivation and staying positive — it really helps them thrive through all of this,” Gina Thompson said. “They said he’s one of the bravest kids. They gave him a Spider-Man gown.”
Noah likes watching YouTube videos of children playing or eating food, so he started reviewing his food — everything from pasta and burgers to Doritos and brownies — while in the hospital. This helps occupy his time, his mother said. The videos are posted on a Facebook page the Thompsons created to keep friends and family updated.
Noah told his nurses he’s Facebook famous.
He has to go the hospital’s pediatric outpatient center twice a week, and as long as he doesn’t get a fever and can stay hydrated, he will continue to get treatments on an outpatient basis, Gina Thompson said.
“The positive thing is his body isn’t having a reaction,” she said. “He’s receiving two types of chemo; so far so good. He’s had four chemo treatments, and his body has not reacted any different, so his body is accepting the treatment. …It’s a lot for his little body.”
HARD TO ACCEPT
The family was still reeling from another medical emergency and financial setback that took place almost a year ago. Jeff Thompson suffered a hemorrhagic stroke because of high blood pressure last February; he spent three days on a ventilator and one month in the hospital. This, coupled with the pandemic, caused the couple to lose their longtime hot-air balloon business.
He is still recovering and has not been able to work. The family does have health insurance.
“We thought 2021 would be the year we get back what we lost, and then the most devastating news hit is with Noah,” the Thompsons wrote on their GoFundMe fundraising page.
“It’s been a rough ride,” Gina Thompson said. “It’s hard to accept. … We’re coming up on his one-year anniversary. And to get this news, you know, your child, it hit hard. … It’s tough to watch.”
Noah has two older sisters, Kayla Rementer, 21, and Ava Thompson, who is 9 and on the autism spectrum. The two youngest are best friends, Gina Thompson said, and this adjustment has been hard on Ava.
“I don’t think she understands,” she said. “We bought her a book, ‘How to Care for a Very Sick Bear.’ It helps her understand, and I had her read it to Noah. I think her biggest adjustment is he doesn’t play anymore. All he does is (lie) around. … they were inseparable and played together all the time.”
To help Ava feel involved, she takes her brother’s temperature and makes sure he has plenty to drink.
A child life specialist at the hospital has been beneficial, giving Gina Thompson tips for helping Ava.
“I try to tell her it’s a really sick disease, she said. “He’s doing well, and the treatment seems to be doing well, … but if he’s not feeling well, we have to let him rest. I don’t think she understands how severe it is. But we include her with everything.”
Both children attend Water Spring Elementary School but are learning virtually, which will be helpful in Noah’s situation because of ongoing medical appointments and hospital visits.
The chemotherapy might be exhausting Noah’s body, but his mother said his personality hasn’t changed a bit.
“He’s the most loving, kind little boy you’ll ever meet,” Gina Thompson said. “He’s friendly, very social, he always makes sure the other person’s happy — it doesn’t matter if he knows you or not. If he sees a little child crying he wants to know why and wants to make a face to make them laugh.
“Even in the hospital, when he was eating the cookie — I said, ‘That smells so good.’ He said, ‘Here, do you want it?’ He was offering me the cookie he was eating. … That’s the type of person he is.”
An online support system helps the Thompsons feel as though they are not alone, and it has been good to connect with parents whose children are going through the same fight.
“We’re trying to handle it the best we can,” Gina Thompson said. “We’re taking it one day at a time.”
The family has shared frequent updates on its GoFundMe page.
“Noah has a long journey ahead of him, and his little body will be put through a lot,” the Thompsons wrote. “He’s a strong little boy, and his spirits remain positive.
“Our hearts are literally broken knowing what Noah is going to have to go through to fight this disease,” they wrote. “This will be a very intense and emotional journey, and we know our son is strong and a fighter!”
Community Editor Amy Quesinberry was born at the old West Orange Memorial Hospital and raised in Winter Garden. Aside from earning her journalism degree from the University of Georgia, she hasn’t strayed too far from her hometown and her three-mile bubble. She grew up reading The Winter Garden Times and knew in the eighth grade she wanted to write for her community newspaper. She has been part of the writing and editing team since 1990.