Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A Father's Story

Imagine you’re watching the Mets game with your eleven-year old Yankee fan son. It’s a moment. Just an ordinary moment.

Now imagine a year later he’s gone. That’s exactly what happened to Mark Wrightington. One minute he was enjoying a baseball game with his first-born son Harold; a few hours later his entire world was upended.

Harold went to bed early that evening claiming, “The Mets stink; this game is boring.” Later, he woke his father and mother, Sandra, because he didn’t feel well. He had a headache; he became nauseous. An ordinary midnight moment for every parent. Then, Harold’s speech became garbled, and seizures began to overtake him. Nothing like this had ever happened to Harold before, so Mark and Sandra rushed him to Hackensack Hospital. Tests were performed, but the doctors could not determine the cause of his seizures. They prescribed medicine and ordered monthly MRI’s. 

The MRI’s came back ordinary until the day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday; that’s when they found a tumor. Not just any tumor—the rarest of all tumors for a child—glioblastoma multi-form—the same tumor that Teddy Kennedy had. Doctors know little about the tumor except for one thing--it is ALWAYS fatal.

I could talk about the details of Harold’s illness; I could talk about the fact that Harold’s chemotherapy consisted of 45 pills that cost $40,000, and for those whose insurance won’t cover it, or the uninsured, the pharmaceutical company provides financing, but only after a credit check; any mar on your credit and your child goes without chemotherapy.

However, I want to talk about the people who rallied around Harold to make his fundraisers a success—Ed Young, the owner of The Outback in Edgewater; the wrestlers who organized a tournament for Harold; the Lindbergh School in Palisades Park who supported a family in their time of need. I want to talk about Bobby Mercer who called Harold’s family in the midst of his own struggle with cancer because he heard that Harold was a huge Yankee fan. I want to talk about the spirit of a community, who when a child is afflicted with a horrible disease puts aside all differences to gather together and collectively support the family. Harold had many champions, but Harold was the hero.

Harold underwent brain surgery; he championed chemotherapy; the tumor returned. Enter the Make-a-Wish foundation. Within 24 hours of receiving a call from Sandra they arranged for Harold and his family to visit Disney World. Make-a-Wish gave Harold one last chance to be a kid—no hospitals, no chemo. Just a chance to be ordinary. 

Harold died on July 4, 2008. No ordinary day. Then again, he was no ordinary boy. 

During the course of our conversation it became clear to me that there is no such thing as an ordinary moment. Every moment is filled with meaning, but we realize it not so much when the moment has passed away, but when the person has passed away. Mark told me that when Harold was an infant he would lay him on his chest and watch football because it was comforting. When Harold was lying in his hospital bed Mark would lay with him and Harold would place his head on Mark’s chest, once again giving comfort to his father.

Listening to Harold’s parents I knew that Harold’s lasting wish would be to bring comfort; to have no other child, parent, brother or sister endure what he and his family endured. That’s why last year Mark and Sandra formed the team “Harold’s Heroes” for the annual north Jersey Make-a-Wish Foundation walk-a-thon; “Harold’s Heroes” raised $34,000.

“Harold’s Heroes” will be in the Make-a-Wish walk-a-thon on October 18th at Liberty State Park. If you’d like to walk with “Harold’s Heroes” or if you’d like to donate to Make-a-Wish Foundation through them, log onto Mark Wrightington’s Facebook page where you’ll find information on how to participate and/or make a donation. Mark, Sandra and all of “Harold’s Heroes” are walking not only to keep Harold’s memory alive, they’re walking for tomorrow’s children. Because tomorrow’s children diagnosed with cancer, can so easily be mine or yours.    

To make a donation, please click on the link below:

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