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Sunday afternoon, Parker Thompson sat in the floor playing with toy cars, watched television and asked for a snack just like any normal 4-year-old would do.
Only, there’s one noticeable difference. He’s bald.
“If it wasn’t for the hair, you wouldn’t know there was anything wrong with him right now,” said his mother, Wendy Thompson of New Hope.
Last May, Parker was diagnosed with Stage IV heptoblastoma, a type of liver cancer. Since then he has undergone regular chemotherapy treatments and had surgeries to remove most of his liver and a growth from his lung.
Parker is also the ambassador child for the St. Baldrick’s event from 1-3 p.m., Saturday, at St. Augustine Grade School.
Parker was born Sept. 15, 2009, and Justin Thompson, Parker’s father, said they were excited to have a baby boy. Parker has two older sisters, Savannah, 11, and Lindsey, 8, and Justin said they’d already decided that three children were what they wanted.
Last April, however, they got their first indication that something might be wrong when Parker fell. His sisters were in the bathroom and he wanted inside, too.
“Just being a nosy 3-year-old,” Wendy said.
The fall caused a hairline fracture in his right leg, which left him in a cast. It also meant Wendy had to carry Parker more often. Even before that, Parker had a baby belly, which Wendy said they would tease him about occasionally, although he did seem to get it naturally.
“Big bellies run in both families,” Justin said. “I pack a pretty good-sized one around myself.”
While holding Parker one day, Wendy felt something hard on his side. Because she works at a doctor’s office, she took him to work with her the following Monday, May 20.
“I didn’t think it was anything big,” she said.
A nurse practitioner examined Parker and told Wendy something wasn’t right. They then took Parker to Flaget Memorial Hospital in Bardstown for X-rays.
By the time Wendy dropped Parker off at the babysitter and returned to work, they’d already gotten his X-rays back. That’s when she was told they suspected he might have heptoblastoma.
By the next day, Parker was a patient at Kosair Children’s Hospital, where they immediately started running tests. By Friday, May 24, 2013, doctors confirmed that he had cancer, and the next day, he underwent his first chemotherapy treatment.
One way doctors detect liver cancer is by testing alpha-fetoprotein levels in the blood. Justin said an AFP level below 20 is considered normal. Parker’s AFP levels were in the thousands, he said.
And his cancer was considered Stage IV because it had already spread to his lungs, Wendy said.
Neither Justin nor Wendy thinks that Parker fully understands that he has cancer, but they also think that may have helped him with his treatments.
“He doesn’t have to deal with the mental aspect of knowing that the chemo is supposed to make you sick and that you feel bad,” Justin said.
One symptom of heptoblastoma is osteopenia, which is reduced bone mineral density that makes bones more brittle. Wendy said the doctors think that was why Parker’s first fall caused a hairline fracture and another fall in September last year caused a complete break of his left femur.
“He wasn’t doing anything special. He was opening the fridge and just fell,” Wendy said about the second break.
As a result of that second fall, Parker spent two and a half months in a body cast while he was being treated for cancer. The doctors at Kosair eventually referred Parker to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in case he needed a liver transplant.
Justin said the doctors at Cincinnati did some tests and concluded that they could remove 60-70 percent of Parker’s liver rather than needing to put him on a transplant list.
“That was probably the first real good news that we received,” Justin said.
Another bit of good news was that Parker’s chemotherapy was making a difference. The tumor on his liver shrunk considerably due to the treatments.
“Basically, it went from a checkbook down to a stick of gum,” Justin said.
In December, when his left leg still wasn’t healing properly, he had another surgery in Cincinnati to repair his leg. After that, Parker was released back to Kosair, which was a relief to his parents. Wendy said the drive back and forth to Louisville was easier to deal with than the drive to Cincinnati — although they agreed that they medical staffs at both hospitals provided Parker with excellent care.
His chemotherapy eliminated most but not all of the cancer in his lungs. So, in January, Parker had another surgery to remove what remained.
After the lung surgery, his AFP level was 33, Justin said.
Last week, Parker got sick and spent a few days in the hospital. That was the first time he’d really gotten sick since his chemotherapy started, according to Justin.
Since he was also running a fever, his immune system was virtually nonexistent. Wendy said he didn’t seem down, but the doctors wanted to keep him in the hospital a few days and gave him some antibodies until he got over his illness.
She added that they have received tremendous support from their family, friends and community since Parker’s initial diagnosis.
“From the beginning it was, ‘What do you need?’” Wendy said.
A website was created — prayersforpreciousparker.com — as well as a Facebook page. Ribbons, t-shirts and wristbands have been sold to raise money to help with expenses, and one man has sent the Thompsons a gas card every month to help with their travel costs, Wendy said. She added that their employers (Justin works at the Toyota Boshuku plant in Bardstown) have been understanding about giving them time off.
Throughout Parker’s treatment, Justin and Wendy also had two daughters to look after and family and friends helped with that, too, picking them up from school and even taking them on vacation.
Meanwhile, Savannah and Lindsey’s classmates at St. Catherine Academy in New Haven have also shown their support, including making cards for Parker at Christmas.
Wednesday, Parker returns to Kosair for what everyone hopes will be his final round of chemotherapy. Wendy said he probably won’t be out in time to attend St. Baldrick’s Saturday, but they definitely appreciate everything St. Baldrick’s does, she said.
“We get to see firsthand where all the money and the time and dedication goes to for the study and to find cures for this kind of stuff,” he said.
ST BALDRICK’S IS SATURDAY
Citizen’s National Bank is hosting its eighth annual St. Baldrick’s event from 1-3 p.m. Saturday, March 15, at St. Augustine School.
The goal for this year’s event is $20,000, and according to the event page on stbaldricks.org, more than $10,800 has been raised as of Monday (although not every donation has yet been reported).
Six teams and 39 people are volunteering to have their heads shaved this year.