Article from Carroll County Times – Westminster, Maryland
By Jaime Bloss, Times Staff Writer – Sunday, January 30, 2005
|Even though Christopher Polk was at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center fighting cancer, many times he was more concerned with how the other young patients around him were feeling.Christopher would walk around the floor each night and make sure the patients were OK before he went to bed, according to his parents, Mike and Della Polk, of Sykesville.|
One night, Christopher was nowhere to be found. He was finally discovered curled up in a girl’s room, evidently having fallen asleep while reading her a story.
Growing up in Baltimore, Christopher was a boy who loved baseball, his parents recalled. He was an outfielder for his team, The Violetville Reds.
His number, nine, was retired by the team in 1990 in his honor.
In 1986, on his sixth birthday, Christopher was diagnosed with a large, cancerous tumor in his jaw and face.
He underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments to shrink the tumor, then had surgery on the affected parts of his face so that the cancer would not return, Mike Polk said.
Christopher went into remission and continued chemotherapy for a little more than two years.
He kept his sense of humor throughout the ordeal.
Mike Polk remembered an incident at the grocery store, when an elderly man kept staring at a bald-headed Christopher in the soup aisle.
“Christopher said, ‘Sir, haven’t you ever seen a kid with cancer before?'” his father remembered.
Christopher finished his chemotherapy treatments but then, less than a month later, doctors discovered through routine testing he’d developed acute leukemia.
After more chemotherapy, he underwent one of two bone marrow transplants. For his 1989 transplant, doctors removed bone marrow from Christopher, treated it with chemotherapy, then replaced it in his body.
The cancer returned within four to six weeks of Christopher coming home.
The family searched for bone marrow donors and facilities that could help Christopher.
Mike Polk credits Christopher’s strength to close friends and family.
“We gathered around as a family and we fought this with him, so it was a family disease. We approached it that way,” he said. “We used to tell him ‘every day you go to the clinic you’re one step closer to being well again.’ “
Ultimately, Della was the closest match in the family to donate bone marrow to Christopher. They traveled to the University of Kentucky Medical Center for the transplant.
Mike Polk equated the experience of having a gravely ill child to a ride in the dark that won’t stop.
“You just never know,” he said. “Every time blood is drawn, you hope it’s for the best. Every time you can make it to school two days in a row, it’s great … it’s the little things that you just overcome.
I look back, and I don’t know how I did it. Trying to maintain employment, having two small children, having a very sick child … without friends and family, I don’t think anyone could survive something like this.”
Because Mike Polk was trying to hold down his job and keep the family’s health insurance, he traveled nearly 600 miles, sometimes by car, sometimes by plane, from their Baltimore home to Kentucky on the weekends to be with Christopher and Della.
One night, Christopher, barely able to talk, started asking his father questions – if kids in other countries have cancer, if they get the same kind of treatments.
His father answered as best he could.
“Then he said, “Dad, if I ever have the chance, I’d like to go to China and visit some of the kids over there and tell them that I’m doing OK and they’re going to be OK too,” Mike Polk remembered.
Although it wasn’t China, Christopher’s father helped arrange a trip for Christopher to Zurich, Switzerland, where he met other children with cancer.
One of Christopher’s dreams was fulfilled.
He never made the full recovery for which his family and friends had hoped. Nine-year-old Christopher died in August 1990.
But his memory hasn’t.
About eight months after his death, his parents started a nonprofit organization to help families of children affected by illness.
“I thought it was great that we’d be able to help other families with sick kids, so they wouldn’t have to go through what we went through,” said Della Polk.
Now, almost 14 years later, Children’s Roads to Recovery has helped 895 families by providing them with services, such as hospital meal and parking vouchers, transportation, air fare, gasoline gift certificates and lodging.
Mike Polk said 55 families, all referred to the organization by hospital social workers, are now receiving monthly benefits from the organization. Eight months is the average time a family is helped by the organization, he said, but it has helped some families for three years.
He still remembers what it was like to help the first family with its transportation needs more than a decade ago.
“My heart opened up . . . my dream became a reality,” he said. “Just as Christopher’s dream became a reality to visit other kids in other countries that had cancer. To me, it was the beginning of something that I hold very, very close to me.”
Mike Polk wants to extend the opportunities they had to other families.
“I am comforted to know, thanks to friends and family, we had the opportunity to do everything in our power to save our son,” he said. “I only want that for any other parent, because every parent deserves that for their child.”
Reach staff writer Jaime Bloss at 410-857-7873 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information or to help Children’s Roads to Recovery, call 410-750-1300, visit the organization’s Web site at www.childrensroadstorecovery.org or send e-mail to email@example.com. Thank you to Carroll County Times for allowing us to post this article on our website. Please visit Carroll County Times at www.carrollcountytimes.com