For A Day: Wetumpka native joins Biscuits for Magic Moments wishPublished 5:57pm Tuesday, June 10, 2014
Even for one day, being a Montgomery Biscuit is rare.
For Wetumpka native and baseball lover Dawson Parker, slipping on a Biscuits jersey with “Parker” stitched on the back gets as close to normal as any other day. At Riverwalk Stadium this weekend as part of an Alabama-based organization Magic Moments, who grants wishes for children with life-threatening illnesses, the 13-year-old became an honorary Biscuit equipped with his own locker. He teamed up with a “Biscuit Buddy” as he toured the double-A affiliate’s facilities, took batting practice, threw a bullpen session Friday and threw out the first pitch Saturday when Friday’s game was rained-out.
“Throwing the first pitch and getting to hang out with the guys in the dugout and the clubhouse,” his mother Penni Parker said, “it’s just great to see Dawson being a kid again after everything he’s been through. He’s had a great time, enjoyed all of his friends being here. It’s like a little lift.”
Normality changed indefinitely for Dawson in 2008. Around Thanksgiving that year, his mother Penni received a call from the University of Rochester (New York) Medical Center confirming a diagnosis for her then 8-year-old son of Fanconi Anemia (FA), a very rare inherited genetic disease that can lead to bone marrow failure and cancer. For the next four years, the Parkers and doctors heavily monitored the prognosis, while in the meantime, Dawson retained this regular lifestyle, playing baseball in the Wetumpka Youth League and hanging out with his friends.
After a series of cellulitis and infection breakouts on his jaw, tongue and legs, physicians told the family Dawson needed a bone marrow transplant.
“He took Dawson out of the room, and we knew something was wrong,” Bob Parker, Dawson’s dad, recalled. “He said, ‘your son’s life has drastically been shortened.’”
The life expectancy of children with FA is 25 years. For the Parkers, the mission to live beyond that took them to the University of Minnesota Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis, where Dawson received a bone marrow transplant in March 2013. Watching him fight through the illness, radiation and chemotherapy, Penni said she told God she didn’t understand.
“I don’t know why kids have to be sick, and I don’t know why it has to be mine,” she said. “I told God, ‘I don’t like your plan, I don’t want to be a part of this, but if you let this pass from us, that’d be great. I’m going to trust you because I knew he was yours before he was mine and you love him more than me.’ That was the only peace I had right there, and from that point on, I didn’t really question God.”
Dawson remained hospitalized for 70 straight days after his transplant. He had his gall bladder removed in July 2013, had another three-week hospital stay in October, but has been home since Dec. 18.
An avid baseball fan, the teenager has grown up around and followed the Montgomery Biscuits. Dawson’s “Biscuit Buddy” and clubhouse locker neighbor, Sam Runion, said it was great for him and his teammates to have Dawson as a Biscuit.
“I feel honored to have Dawson here, kind of show him the ropes and give him the experience that he wanted,” Runion, a Asheville, N.C. native, said. “I’m very honored and humbled to be able to do this. We play a kid’s game for a living, and when you can give like this and have the chance to meet somebody as awesome as Dawson, it just makes it great.”
Through his experience, Penni said her son has become a more compassionate person and has taught her more than she ever expected.
“He has taught us way more than we could ever teach him,” Penni said. “You still have in the back of you mind, there’s always that chance that this is life-threatening. It’s either going to go one or two ways.
“I asked Dawson several times, were you ever scared? He said ‘no mama, I was never scared, that he never thought he would die. He always felt like God was there with him.”
Magic Moments has booked a seven-day Walt Disney World trip for Dawson and his family for later this summer. The 13-year-old still faces challenges daily, but his parents are grateful for the opportunities he has to live normal experiences, something that no longer exists for them.
“I don’t know if I ever will feel normal again because there’s always that demon in the back of our heads,” Penni said. “This is our life, this will always be our life.”
“You can’t prepare people for this, you just survive it and live through it,” Bob said. “You learn to live with it. That is your new normal.”