Look closely at the photo Wally Kasteler took of a young father from Cortez, Colo., standing at the door of Ronald McDonald House on South Temple. What you see shining in Doug May's eyes is something even a Nikon camera can't usually capture. After weeks of utter despair, May is radiating hope.
A specialist in Farmington, N.M., told May just weeks ago that his 9-year-old son had an inoperable brain tumor. "He'll never make it to the end of the school year, but we can give him radiation to make him comfortable . . . ," said the doctor.Before 12 hours had passed, May was on the phone to the Mayo Clinic for yet another opinion. In New York, his father, Denton May, wept as he told his wife, LaDawn, of the devastating phone call he had just received. Mrs. May had read an article the week before in the February Reader's Digest: "I Don't Accept Children Dying," about Dr. Fred J. Epstein, who was using laser surgery against "inoperable" brain tumors.
Mrs. May called Epstein's office and received the first glimmer of hope for young Dylan Tavis May. Epstein has spent the past 10 years researching brain stem tumors. Epstein pioneered a laser surgery to stop the ravages in the region of the brain that controls basic functions such as movement, heartbeat and breathing. Children formerly sent home to die underwent Epstein's brain surgery and, with the touch of a laser, their tumors were turned into wisps of ash.
Within an hour, Epstein's office returned the call and told Mrs. May that in addition to Epstein, Dr. Marion L. (Jack) Walker of Primary Children's Medical Center in Salt Lake City was trained in the technique. "Dr. Walker? Oh, yes! He's a peer of Dr. Epstein. I wouldn't hesitate to take my child to Dr. Walker," Mrs. May was told.
And so Doug and Karen May packed their gravely ill son, Dylan, and his brother Alec, 61/2, and sister, Alyssa, 2, for a trek to Utah.
Doug May is a school-bus driver in Cortez and does not have any insurance. "Before we left, the drivers had a fund-raiser and gave us $750. My wife Karen's church passed the plate and collected $500. But Primary Children's Hospital has been so great. They told us, `Let's get Dylan better; we'll worry about the money later,' " May said.
On Feb. 24, Walker removed about half of Dylan's tumor in an operation that began at 7:30 a.m. and ended at 5 p.m. "A nurse called us every two hours with updates on the surgery," May said. "She told us they had removed the bone and were going in with ultrasound to locate the tumor. Then we were told they were ready to start removing the tumor - that Dylan was holding up real well under the anesthesia."
Close to one half of the tumor was removed; radiation will take care of the rest of it. Dylan spent the weekend in ICU and then will receive physiotherapy to deal with any loss of motor skills.
It has been a sobering time for Dylan's father. "I've stood in ICU watching these dramas played out before me," he said. "Families talk with one another. Total strangers become close friends. I saw a woman standing by the door to ICU crying. I rubbed her back to let her know I understood, but I never had to say a word.
"I can't say enough about Primary Children's Hospital. I've never seen anything like it - to see a place with so much energy devoted to children. It's an institution built for exactly the right reason," May said.
And Ronald McDonald House? "This place is an absolute godsend. We've been able to keep our family together and intact through this ordeal. We're so close to the hospital, and there're videos, a playroom with toys, checkers and puzzles and children's books. Volunteers come in and do activities with the children like crafts. The communal kitchen is a social place where everyone makes friends. The fee is so minimal - if you can't pay it, in future years you can put it back," May said.
"We've had a real struggle but we're gaining on it. We've gone from no hope to lots of hope," the young father said.
Ronald McDonald House, 935 E. South Temple, is home away from home for the families of children undergoing treatment at Salt Lake City hospitals. The nonprofit home is operated by a volunteer board that raises money for those unable to pay. Because of the number of families who must be turned away for lack of space, an addition is being planned. (The groundbreaking is scheduled for late March.) For volunteer opportunities, call Mindy at 363-4663.