Monday, September 12, 2011

The story of Bryson’s F.U.E.L

BRYSONE HEADLINE copy

While we try to teach our children all about life,
Our children teach us what life is all about.
~Angela Schwindt

Life is no more precious then through the eyes of a child. I would like you to meet Bryson Smith. Through his precious eyes, I hope to open your eyes, make you aware of your own life and how precious life truly is.

03232011hp2_009Like most 4-year-old little boys, Bryson enjoys cars, a habit he most likely picked up from his daddy.

Since June 1, he has been courageously fighting a battle with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). Bryson’s parents Heather and Jim were thrown for a loop when what they thought was growing pains quickly progressed to be so much more.

Originally told that Bryson had rheumatoid arthritis, tests were being done to confirm that when alarms sounded in their doctor's head. A bone abnormality was discovered and the Smiths were sent for blood work immediately. Within an hour the family was aware there were problems, and they were sent to Levine Children's Hospital for immediate treatment and testing. Moments later, after being flooded with doctors and nurses, they received the news that no parents should ever have to receive - their son had leukemia.

That news would send most parents into tears or fits of outrage. Some would wonder what their son had done to deserve the diagnosis, but for the Smith family none of that happened. After the doctors mapped out the three-and-a-half year treatment course for Bryson, he was immediately prepped for chemotherapy via a port implanted under his skin. Doctors were blunt with the Smiths, telling them, “This is not an easy road, this will be the hardest three-and-a-half years of your life.” Many things were thrown at them within the first few hours: at least 30 days in the hospital, binders on information, doctors, nurses, social workers … enough to make their heads spin. bryson91
Bryson's father Jim, who owns an auto restoration shop, also works for Richard Childress building the 2010 street performance Camaros. He has also worked at Hendrick Motorsports and with Roush Fenway Racing. After Jim notified Childress, the team owner reached out to the family to make sure they were getting the care they needed for Bryson – which they were.

In a whirlwind experience that Heather shared with me, Bryson was never a little boy to be sick, was never on antibiotics for an illness – nothing. So once Bryson started complaining of pain, they took him to the doctor and that is when they were given the diagnosis of juvenile arthritis. For five days, the Smiths breathed a sign of relief. Yes, arthritis is painful for anyone, but it is certainly nothing compared to leukemia.

Hearing Heather recount one particular part of her story made me realize the strength of her family. Her husband and oldest son, Justin, left the hospital to go to a car show. Being left alone with Bryson, the nurses frequently checked in on her and were asking, “Are you OK?” and her answer was always yes. After multiple times of this being asked, she was curious why it was being asked so often. Finally the nurse explained, three other children were diagnosed the same day Bryson was. After being shown a mother screaming and crying in the hallway, the nurse said, “See, this is why we keep checking on you,” because Heather was so calm over everything being thrown her way. She said, “I just can’t, I have to deal with it and think about my son!”

Since his diagnosis, Bryson has been undergoing chemotherapy and as of last week, his chemo was upped because he has been responding well.

Through all the personal devastation of dealing with their son’s diagnosis, the Smiths have garnered their strength and are reaching out to help others. The financial burden on a family dealing with a child with cancer is abundant; insurance can only cover so much, until the costs falls back onto the family. Heather and Jim saw the need all around them, as Heather told me, “It is impossible for both parents to work” when dealing with a child with cancer.

Bryson’s F.U.E.L. bryson6was founded by the family to help others in their situation. F.U.E.L. stands for Families United to Eliminate Leukemia. A nonprofit organization, the goal of Bryson’s F.U.E.L. is to aid other families by providing a way to ease the burdens thrown their way. Amongst their ideas are to provide gas cards because of the trips to doctors and hospitals, cards for the families to get meals while at the hospital and Ronald McDonald Houses, Target and Wal-Mart giftcards for those basic needs that come up while away from home, etc. Another thing they are doing is making Baskets of Fun for the children in the hospital, providing them with some toys during their stay.

To make this work, Bryson’s F.U.E.L. is holding multiple fundraisers, and one is just two weeks away. 

The steroids Bryson is on make him very hungry. Bryson is a huge fan of Chick-fil-A’s chicken nuggets. Through speaking with a local Chick-fil-A manager, they are helping Bryson launch his first big event, a balloon release on Sept. 24 in Mooresville, N.C. With a goal of 3,000 balloons to be launched, you may purchase just one single balloon for $5, buy 20 and you get a free F.U.E.L. shirt. Most poignant is that many balloons will have names written on them of children who have lost their battle, so not only is this a fundraiser, it is also a remembrance event. For more details, head over to the Bryson's F.U.E.L. website.

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Bryson got to meet Johnny and Cortney
Sauter and their son Penn.
I became aware of Bryson’s story through a NASCAR connection, finding out that Bryson’s F.U.E.L. has been working with Johnny and Cortney Sauter. Sauter, who drives in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, learned of Bryson after his wife Cortney saw a flyer in her gym. Reaching out to the Smiths, she and Johnny offered any help to the family. After meeting, Sauter is now running a Bryson’s F.U.E.L. sticker on his truck throughout the season.

After speaking to Heather and learning all about Bryson, I implore you to visit their website and reach out to help. Bryson is just one story, but there are many children like him facing this cruel challenge even before they are given the chance to enjoy life.

I would really like to thank Heather for speaking to me and sharing the story of Bryson and their family. On a personal note: Bryson has become my hero! Many look up to sports stars, actors, etc. as their hero, but to me, Bryson is my little hero.
__________


NASCAR By the Numbers and In the Rearview Mirror (looking back at NASCAR's history) are Amanda's two weekly columns with Skirts and Scuffs, but as an Associate Editor her duties are limitless. Amanda also expanded her area of coverage to include exclusive interviews, brought straight to the readers of Skirts and Scuffs. To read her past columns and interviews, click here. Feel free to follow and contact Amanda via Twitter.

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