About a month ago, I remember meeting a young man that stole my heart in about 10 seconds. Elizabeth and I have become regulars at the hospitals but that day we were there to meet our newest Dream Kid and let him know that we were going to make his sports dream come true. We took the elevator up to the 11th floor and then made our way through the halls to the room where we were to meet the family. We walked through one door and were asked to wait while the air stabilized before opening the door to the next room. We washed our hands and put a mask on our face and then made our way into his room.
There he was…Nicholas Thornton (age 11). We quickly introduced ourselves to mom and dad and then shifted our attention to this young man smiling at us from his hospital bed. I wanted so much to take off my mask so that he could see me smiling back, but I followed the nurse’s instructions and left it on. We could tell that even though Nicholas had never met us, he was excited that we were there! My heart felt very heavy as I looked at this young man lying in front of me holding tightly to his stuffed frog. He had an IV in his arm and his breathing seemed to be a bit erratic. His hair had been shaved and a small section of his skull on the right side had been removed to alleviate the swelling on his brain. You could tell that Nicholas didn’t have full mobility on his left side and behind that gleaming smile you could tell that he seemed a bit tired. Despite the obvious answers from our surroundings, I stepped up to the side of the bed and said “Hey Nicholas, how are you doing?” Nicholas raised his hand to give me the thumbs up sign and then said the words that have been echoing in my head ever since. “I’m doing great and can’t get much better!”
In January of 2013, Nicholas’s parents noticed the bruises developing on his body. At the doctor’s office they found that his blood counts were off and he was admitted to the hospital. After about a month of running tests and hospital visits, Nicholas learned that he had Aplastic Anemia (an autoimmune disease that attacks platelets, white and red blood cells). He would need to start treatments immediately while they looked for a potential bone marrow donor. On February 25th 2013, Nicholas suffered a devastating brain hemorrhage that would leave him without the use of his left side. Another brain hemorrhage followed about one month later. The next several months were extremely difficult as Nicholas worked to learn to breathe, speak, and move all over again. In September, Nicholas received a bone marrow transplant from the closest match they could find…his father. Nicholas’s father was not an exact match but the doctors felt that he was close enough to see if his body would accept it. The transplant seemed to work and Nicholas was able to go home in December for the first time in nearly a year.
In January of this year, Nicholas was admitted to Levine Children’s Hospital because of complications with his lungs. Doctors worked hard to determine what was causing the lungs to deteriorate but despite all efforts they could not get them functioning properly. At approximately 3:40 yesterday (Friday, February 22nd) Nicholas went to be with The Lord. I knew that this was a part of what we signed up for when we started Dream On 3, but I now know that I was not prepared for it. We’ve had several wonderful moments of watching dreams come true, but this is the first time that we have experienced the loss of one of our Dream Kids. Nicholas’s sports dream was to watch the Olympic swimmers training in Charlotte. When we talked to Nicholas about his dream he told us that although he did not swim, he had taken a very strong interest in the sport and the athletes during the 2012 Olympics. Thanks to the wonderful support of SwimMAC Carolina, Nicholas’s dream was set to take place in May. This was to allow him a few months to get his blood counts up & become strong enough to be able to travel and enjoy the experience.
Nicholas Thornton was an amazing boy with an old soul. Listening to the stories of those close to him, he never let his condition get him down. This disease may have ultimately taken his body, but it never stood a chance against his contagious positive attitude and his innocence. From the first 10 seconds in that room, I knew that there was something special about this kid! Even through the chemo, surgeries, and rehabilitation Nicholas continued to put the needs of others above his own. You just don’t see that level of kindness and gratefulness in kids these days (including my own). When Elizabeth noticed his stuffed animal and asked Nicholas if he liked frogs, Nicholas told her that he liked frogs because of the acronym that he had learned. (F.R.O.G. – Forever Relying On God). My heart is broken for this amazing family. I wish so much that we could have made his dream come true before his time was up. But that’s not what Nicholas would have wanted for us to spend our time thinking about. Nicholas would have much rather those that knew him spend time thinking about the things that he was able to do and the fun memories that were made. When Nicholas was admitted to the hospital this last time, he looked at his mom and said, “Mom you know, I’m thankful for my life. I’m happy with my life.” Nicholas Thornton will always hold a special place in our hearts. May we all find peace knowing that today he is smiling at us with his thumb up and saying …”I’m doing great and can’t get ANY better!”
–Brandon Lindsey, Founder & Executive Director of Dream On 3