2023 Honored Patient: Charlie
Charlie is a rambunctious kid – always ready to race or challenge anyone willing to take him on. So, in the Spring of 2021, there was some concern when Charlie’s parents, Beth and Chris, noticed a series of strange symptoms in their seven-year-old.
His once boundless energy seemed to wane. He mentioned bone pain, particularly at night, and started looking slightly pale. Thinking he might have asthma or an iron deficiency, Beth and Chris took him to the pediatrician where they were soon blindsided by what they heard next. Charlie was diagnosed with blood cancer and was instructed to proceed directly to Children’s Minnesota in Minneapolis.
With a formal diagnosis of B-cell ALL (Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia), the staff at Children’s Minnesota immediately got to work. An oncologist presented a “road map” of the 2 ½ year journey they would take - which was a prelude to the hiccups, struggles and landmarks that awaited them. Charlie’s introduction to treatment was a rough one, particularly in the first month. Riddled with setbacks and strong side effects to medications, his biggest nemesis came in the form of Vincristine, a powerful and necessary chemotherapy drug he received during treatment. The medicine triggered a variety of side effects for Charlie, but especially peripheral neuropathy.
Seeing Charlie’s intense reaction to Vincristine, Monica Olsen and the PT staff at Children’s Minnesota interceded with him quickly. Using Charlie’s competitive nature and a propensity to be silly, they tailored exercises to combat the neuropathy.
“I remember vividly Charlie playing catch with Monica in his hospital room with a tennis ball and Velcro pads,” Chris recalled. “He giggled the entire time knowing he was breaking our family rule of “no throwing balls inside.”
The exercises alone were not enough to counteract the increasing neuropathy. The effects started bowing his legs, changing his stride and collapsing his arches. He was recommended for leg braces, which he adorned ironically with Sonic the Hedgehog stickers and dubbed them his “Go Faster Boots.”
Charlie’s silliness and need for laughter have been present throughout this journey. His clinic rooms were considered “party rooms” where laughter frequently erupted and his cup would be filled. Outside of the hospital, Charlie and his family have been blessed with an abundance of support. Along with friends and family, the members of Ascension Episcopal Church in Stillwater, Minn., and his local elementary school teachers, staff and classmates have been a huge source of support.
After two plus long years, the end is sight as Charlie’s treatment journey is coming to a happy ending. Although he will be monitored closely until he is 25 years old, the once daunting epoch of chemotherapy treatments will be complete on August 2 - exactly one day before the start of the 2023 Pine Tree Apple Tennis Classic! With the help and guidance of Children’s Minnesota Physical Therapy program, Charlie has resumed sports, playing football, baseball and basketball and can finally be “just a kid” again. Not surprisingly. he is ready and waiting to challenge anyone to that race.
Reflecting back on all that is behind them, The Huizinga family is astounded by the acts of generosity and support they received during Charlie’s journey.
“Sometimes the smallest gesture made in love can have the biggest impact,” Chris said. “We have received an absolute tidal wave of love and support from near and far. Our journey has been covered with examples of little things that have meant the world to us and become so much bigger than we ever expected.”