“The symptoms weren’t worrisome at first,” said Christi Johnson of her then 7-year-old son, Ben, who one day began experiencing unexplained low-grade fevers.
“He never had any other problem, just a couple of months of constant little fevers,” Christi said. “Then he would easily tire and ended up being anemic.”
Christi took Ben to his pediatrician in Auburn and labs were drawn to find answers. Initial blood work didn’t pinpoint the problem, but it did reveal enough for Christi and husband, Brandon, to take Ben to Children’s of Alabama. “We didn’t know what was wrong when we left Auburn, but we knew it was something bad,” Christi said. “The test results from the labs were extremely off.”
The following day, a bone marrow biopsy revealed Ben’s diagnosis — acute lymphoblastic leukemia. “That was a day we will, of course, never forget,” Christi said. “It was so hard, and we just had to wait to see if he was standard or high-risk and how he handled the treatment.”
Chemotherapy began right away, and in the first 30 days, Ben responded well. In fact, his cancer went into remission. “We were told to expect remission in the first month because they are so aggressively treated with chemo,” Christi said. “But what threw us through a loop was when his doctors told us that treatment would take three-and-a-half years.”
Ben faced intensive treatment for the first seven or eight months and later switched to a lower dose of chemo. The family initially traveled to Birmingham at least once a week, then the visits tapered to once a month or so. Ben recently finished treatment and remains in remission.
“He is a miracle,” Christi said. “Even during the frontline aggressive treatment at the beginning, he did so well. He only spent 10 nights in the hospital the entire time.”
Today, Ben is back to focusing on his favorite activities — football, baseball, swimming and playing with his friends. And this month, Ben is serving as a crew chief at Racing for Children’s at Barber Motorsports Park. Each year, the annual fundraising event honors two Children’s of Alabama patients who serve as honorary crew chiefs for the Racing for Children’s race car and lead the Children’s of Alabama team in their race to cure cancer. The chiefs are honored at “Track Day” and get to enjoy a ride around the track, as well as other fun activities.
“Children’s has just been wonderful,” Christi said. “These doctors and nurses were put on this Earth to treat children and help them get better. I just can’t say enough about them. They’re incredible.”
The eighth annual Racing for Children’s Charity Dinner and Auction presented by Medical Properties Trust will be held April 20 at 6:30 p.m. at Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum. To purchase sponsorships or tickets, visit RacingForChildrens.org. For additional information, contact Mindy Wald at [email protected]. The annual Racing for Children’s event raises funds and awareness for The Alabama Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders, along with other Children’s initiatives. The RFC event has raised over one million dollars and increased awareness for pediatric cancer.
This article is sponsored by Children’s of Alabama.