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Children's gives the birthday boy a helping hand toward the future

By John Kelly
Wednesday, November 25, 2009

On the day he turned 8, Brian Wathen decided to wear his Tom Brady (No. 12) New England Patriots jersey.

On the day he turned 8, Brian's mother, Jill Wathen, didn't make him sit in a booster seat on their 90-minute drive from La Plata to Washington.

On the day he turned 8, Brian let me spend the morning with him.

"This is where I get my vitals," he said as he slid into a chair in the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Children's Hospital.

"Any pain or allergies?" asked Julia Dorsey, a patient care tech.

"Omnicef," Brian answered.

Omnicef?

"It's a family of antibiotics," Brian explained to me.

"This is my identification bracelet," he said, fingering a white plastic hospital bracelet. "This is my allergy bracelet," he said fingering a red one. "This is a blood pressure cuff. That thing she put in my mouth is a thermometer."

His vitals measured, Brian walked into an examination room and climbed atop the bed there. Nurse Anthony "Pup" Thomas walked into the room. "What size?" Pup asked. "One inch or three-quarter inch?"

"One inch," said Brian, describing the size of the needle Pup needs to access his port, the device under the skin on his chest that allows direct access to his bloodstream.

"This is called numbing cream," Brian said, pointing to a dab under a clear adhesive dressing on his chest. His tiny fingers carefully worked the edge of the bandage. I asked Brian whether he fell into the pull-a-bandage-off-fast camp or the pull-a-bandage-off-slow camp.

"Pull it off slow," he said, pulling it off slowly.

Pup cleaned Brian's skin with an alcohol swab and then said, "All right, my friend."

Brian leaned into his mother, his body nestled in the crook of her right arm. He turned his head toward her and gave a quiet "Ah" as Pup pressed the tip of the needle against his chest and into the port.

Pup moved the needle about then worked the plunger of the syringe -- in out, in out -- until blood wafted into the saline, like a red banner unfurling in a breeze.

"Okay, we're good," Pup said.

"I took a deep breath and just held it in," Brian said, relaxing.

Can you feel the saline being injected, I asked.

"No, but I can taste it," he said.

On the day he turned 8, Brian watched as Pup injected the cancer drug vincristine into his port and then talked about the World Series with his oncologist, Dr. Brian Rood.

"You know our problem?" asked Dr. Rood, a die-hard Phillies fan. "Pitching. We hitched our cart to an old horse."

On the day he turned 8, Brian met with his neurologist, Dr. Roger Packer.

"How come you like Tom Brady?" asked Dr. Packer, seeing Brian's jersey. "Is it because he married a model?"

No, said Brian. It's because he's good. "My friend Tyler, he likes Tony Roma."

"That's all right," said Dr. Packer. "I like the Eagles. I hate you all."

Dr. Packer asked Brian to walk for him, to follow his finger with his eyes, to push against him with his hands. "Has he had his 'Make a Wish'?" he asked Brian's mom.

"No," said Jill. "He wants to wait till his port is out. It's Disney."

Dr. Packer explained that Brian had a medulloblastoma, a tumor growing on his brain stem. Brian had surgery, then radiation and is undergoing chemotherapy. The triple-tiered approach improves the survival rate for this type of cancer from 50 percent to 90 percent.

On the day he turned 8, Brian stopped by to see Dr. John Myseros, the neurosurgeon who in December removed his tumor.

"Brady?!" Dr. Myseros said, seeing Brian's jersey.

On the day he turned 8, Brian thought ahead to the coming Sunday, when 40 friends and family members would pile aboard a bus and head to Dave & Busters.

On the day he turned 8, Brian had his 20th chemotherapy treatment at Children's Hospital. He has seven more.

Helping children

Brian Wathen recently won an award for academic achievement from the Charles County Board of Education. On the day he received it, he was asked whether he had anything he wanted to say. He said, "I want to thank my mom, my dad, my family and friends, and Children's Hospital."

Please help support our annual campaign for Children's Hospital. Your tax-deductible contribution during our annual fund drive will be used to pay the medical bills of poor children. To donate, send a check or money order payable to "Children's Hospital" to Washington Post Campaign, P.O. Box 17390, Baltimore, Md. 21297-1390.

To donate online using a credit card, go to http://www.washingtonpost.com/childrenshospital. To contribute by phone using Visa or MasterCard, call 202-334-5100.

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