Daniel was a normal, energetic nine-year-old boy when he began complaining to his mom about thigh pain. She figured he pulled a muscle playing with the neighborhood kids and just needed to rest. Daniel got an opportunity to attend the NFL Pro Bowl to see his favorite player. That day, Catherine knew something was seriously wrong when Daniel asked to go to the hospital for his leg pain instead of watching his favorite team at the game.
Catherine remembers the day vividly when DJ was diagnosed with cancer. Doctors had found a tumor in his thigh that tested positive for bone cancer and Catherine fell to the floor. She looked at the doctor and said, “save his life.” The next few months were a blur, Catherine had to utilize the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for work as she focused on her new priority- getting her son better.
While Catherine and DJ stayed in the hospital, Catherine’s parents took care of DJ’s seven-year-old sister, Jessica. It was hard. DJ asked his mom, “Am I going to die?” He went through 30 weeks of chemotherapy and often just wanted to go home.
Once his tumor was removed it was 95% necrosis which let the oncologist and surgeon know the chemotherapy was working! As Catherine focused on caring for her son, they had no idea there was another mountain in the distance. DJ’s best survival rate would involve the amputation of his leg. DJ and his mom decided to go ahead with rotationplasty, a surgical procedure used to treat bone tumors in children that occur near the knee.
“We thought chemotherapy was the most difficult challenge we would have to face and that was nothing. Daniel had a 12-hour surgery to remove his limb. Moving forward, physical therapy was the most challenging. He had to learn to walk with a prosthetic and re-learn how to do day to day things that we often take for granted.”
DJ not only learned how to walk again, but found a lifelong mentor in his physical therapist, Trevor Hicks, at AdventHealth Sports Med and Rehab. Through weekly physical therapy appointments, Trevor helped DJ learn to function with his new prosthetic leg. DJ decided he wanted to run the Star Wars 5K at Disney with Trevor. With a crowd of people cheering him on, DJ finished the race.
“Watching him cross that finish line, words can’t express how it makes you feel,” his mother says.
DJ and his family overcame a huge obstacle that very few can overcome. With over 100,000 children in our hospital each year, many will experience a terrifying diagnosis like his. You can provide real help to these families by covering everyday expenses such as transportation costs, utility bills, medical bills, groceries and even rent payments.