My Yoors Hero 2020

When @Henkjan de Krijger    asked us to share our Yoors Hero for 2020 I had to think a little about this. Because especially based on a year like we had, I thought doctors, nurses, health workers these people really are heroes this year, some even died trying to save others. Teachers found themselves thrown into the deep end and quickly had to master all kinds of online lessons for their students. Parents; many quit their jobs in order to be able to help their children with the new form of school at home. Children too, took this year in their stride, so much change, so many theories they heard, but they just kept going.

I also thought about people on Yoors, those who are the first to say hi to a new member and offer to help with anything they can. And Henkjan and Babita that practice so much patience on this platform, with so many different personalities, different views, different nationalities there are bound to be misunderstandings or difference of opinions and you both handle things with so much grace.

But if I am truly honest with myself and with all of you, I have had someone who I consider a hero for the past 11 years already and he is only 16 years old.

My daughter, Makayla with AJ when he was in her first grade class. They immediately hit it off and became best friends very quickly. When we first met his family they told us about his health history.

So picture this.

You are 3 months old and you have a stroke.

You are 18 months old, you can walk, say a few words, feed yourself, then you have another stroke.

You are 3 years old, you are a full functioning toddler, potty trained, walking, running around, talking, then you have another stroke and not just on any day, on Christmas Day .. This stroke makes your body or rather brain go back to baby phase, you again cannot walk, talk or feed yourself. You are a baby in a three year olds body.

You bounce back and when other 6 year olds start school, you also start school, everything seems to be coming together for you, but being in an environment with so many other children is very distracting to you, you struggle to focus, you struggle to follow instructions and by the end of the school year you are held back because you haven't mastered grade one. You try again the following year, but things are a really big struggle.

Eventually after a 2 and a half year struggle you become a home schooled student. This is much better, having a teacher that is focused just on you helps you catch up to where other students are your age, in no time.

Just as things seem to come together now at last, you suffer another stroke, you are rushed to hospital and many doctors come and go. They all want to know, why does this keep happening? What is causing it.
A neurosurgeon comes to meet you and orders MRI scans.  

You find out that all your troubles have been due to a brain tumor, you are only 9 years old then, that is a scary idea for your family, for your friends everyone is very emotional. Now doctors want to find out is this tumor cancerous or not?
So you go in for an operation, you get a 10 cm cut on top of your head. Your 10th birthday is coming up and your only worry is that your hair is going to be weird on your party. Men in your family shave your hair and their own so everyone can look like you. You go for the biopsy and birthday celebrations can go ahead, because it is not cancer. Everyone around you is happy.
But the doctor warns you that if this tumor grows, it will have to be removed, this tumor must be monitored every 3 months for any changes. The tumor is growing in the part of the brain that is responsible for learning and retaining information as well as emotions.

Your birthday comes and your friends decide to make it a silly hat entrance, everyone must wear a hat, you are so happy because you feel a little awkward about your massive cut and plaster on it, now you can enjoy your party without worrying about it .

A year later, the tumor grows, you are hospitalized and doctors go back and forth about how to deal with it. Some say wait others say don't wait. It's all very confusing for everyone. Eventually it is decided that the tumor must be removed before it damages the brain.

This operation is a 6 hour op, your family and friends are really stressed out, but you smile through it because you understand this is something that needs to be done. You tell everyone to stay calm. You a child… tells the adults to stay calm. Your best friend Makayla cries non stop, she doesn't want you to go through any more, she is upset that bad things keep happening to you, she is upset that she cannot visit you in hospital because she is too young and she keeps asking people to pray for you.

3 Hours into the operation the neurosurgeon comes out of theater and everyone's hearts stop for a second, that was too quick what is going on? The tumor is too intertwined with the brain, it is growing and holding the brain almost hostage in a way. If they cut more, you will end up blind, paralysed or dead. The only way to remove it all is to remove that whole part of the brain. None of the doctors, professors or surgeons want to go ahead and decide to rather cut away pieces of it as it grows. They will only go another route if his life depends on it.

This has all happened by the age you are 12, so now life should really give you a break, right ?!

But not quite, because you see, shortly after all of this happens his parents suffer a major financial blow. His medical bills are piling up, his dad lost his job, they cannot afford their house anymore and everything is a great big mess. They sell their house, pay off their debt with what's left of the profit and move into a smaller house. Now slowly things start improving, his dad finds a new job, the pay isn't great but the family is grateful for it. AJ then starts getting seizures, because the tumor does cause epilepsy and so he has to be monitored and everyone that spends time with him needs to know what to do in case something happens.

For a while everything is okay, then another big blow comes. His dad is diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer and has been battling it for about 2 years now. So why is AJ my hero, why am I telling you all of this?

Because though life has thrown him so many curveballs, so many hardships from such a young age, this young man lives life with a smile on his face and gratitude for every single little thing. In all the years I have known him I have never, I repeat, never heard him complain about anything. I have never heard him use his illnesses or his tumor to excuse him for anything, in fact he doesn't even talk about it.

On every occasion that he was hospitalized, even on the occasions where his brain had been operated on, he sat up on his hospital bed beaming with excitement for the people that where there to visit him. One time the Doctors even arranged for my daughter to visit him in ICU something that isn't allowed here. They did this because he hadn't stopped telling them about her, they were so happy to see how enthusiastic he spoke about her that they thought it would be a good boost for him if she surprised him. She had to be prepped to go into ICU and when they saw each other there wasn't a dry eye in the room. He had been expected to stay another week in hospital, but 2 days later he was released.
He bounced back that quick. He always bounces back. Their friendship is pure and sweet and never ending.

He is one of the kindest, most humble and most gentle souls I know.He is a walking miracle and I am tremendously proud to be a part of his life.