Brother honors brother by collecting toys for others
MIFFLIN — Noah and Camden Lewis run and play in their Licking Creek home, swinging play swords and jumping on one another’s backs. Noah is almost 5 years old and Camden is 3.
An onlooker may think nothing of the backpack Camden is wearing as he plays. It looks like an accessory to playtime. Inside that backpack is a feeding apparatus that places nutrients into the 3-year-old chest by means of a feeding tube.
Camden has spent much of his short life living inside the walls of the Janet Weis Children’s Hospital at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville. His brother, Noah, and parents, Charlie and Jamie, spend a great deal of time there, too, as visitors.
Having time to play inside their own home is priceless.
At age 2, Noah boldly told his parents he felt all children in the hospital deserved to have toys so they could play and feel like they are at home.
Over the past three years, “Noah’s Outreach” has brought new, unwrapped Christmas presents to young patients at the hospital.
This year, the effort is growing.
The first year people from the Lewis family’s church, First Baptist in Mifflintown, made donations as well as other family and community members. The second year the physical therapy group CPRS has been a drop off location.
This year, all local CPRS offices are drop off centers: Mifflintown, McAlisterville (behind Sal’s OIP) and three Perry County offices. Collection ends Dec. 12.
The new, unwrapped items can be anything that would be a present for babies to teenagers including clothing items, CDs, DVDs and various toys, books and stuffed animals.
“Noah’s Outreach” has added another donation opportunity this year. Non-perishable food items can be donated to Cassie’s Cupboard at the same drop off locations. Cassie’s Cupboard provides snack and food items for families of sick children at the hospital so they do not have to rely on the repeated expense of the hospital food court.
Non-refrigerated items include microwaveable pop-top meals, oatmeal, toaster pastries, popcorn, juice boxes, granola bars and more.
This effort came about as a result of the Lewis family’s personal experience with a sick child.
Camden was born in August of 2013 prematurely at 34 weeks gestation. His prematurity does not play a factor in his many illnesses, his mother Jamie said.
As an infant, Camden experienced problems eating and digesting. A feeding tube was inserted to help him with that issue until doctors could determine the cause of his problem.
At age 1, during a C.A.T. scan for his eating problems, doctors discovered Camden had a tethered spinal cord. This is a rare instance, Jamie said, and surgery was required to repair it.
“There is only 1 percent chance of an infection with this surgery,” Jamie said.
And Camden was among the 1 percent.
He had the spinal cord surgery Dec. 22, 2014. He was sent home a couple days later. On Christmas Day, his spinal area at the surgery site was swollen. He was taken to the emergency room.
After many tests and several doctors coming to see Camden and examine him on Christmas Day, it was determined he had an extremely severe spinal infection that is much like meningitis. As a result, he nearly died.
Camden spent six weeks in the hospital. This was one of many more hospital stays.
Some of the toddler’s problems also included the inability to urinate or produce bowel movements. He had a procedure done in the hospital that inserted a hole near the navel to release urine. By age 2 he had gone into kidney failure.
Camden has also had vision complications and at times can only see primary colors. He also requires an oxygen tank periodically because he is not able to produce what he needs.
“We spend an average of 13 days a month at the hospital,” Jamie said.
The list of health issues for the preschool student go on and on, his mother said.
After three years of wondering why their child had so many problems, the Lewis family was given a diagnosis recently.
“They told us it is dystonia,” Jamie said, a disease that is still not completely understood by medical professionals. It is a neurological disorder in which there are abnormalities in how neurotransmitters in the brain relay messages to the body.
Some experts believe the disorder is genetic. Camden has undergone some genetic testing recently to make that determination.
Even the prognosis is unclear.
“We were told to just take it one day at a time. Keep him happy and healthy. Take it day by day,” Jamie said.
During this entire process Noah has been along for the ride, so to speak. He goes along to doctor appointments. He has seen many children with cancer who stay on Camden’s unit at the hospital.
Noah has been taking in these surroundings since he was 2.
Camden has not spent Christmas in his home since birth. The family is hopeful this will be the first.
During that first hospital stay for Camden during Christmas, Noah spoke up.
“Mommy and Daddy, I’m going to make kids happy,” he said.
His parents naturally asked him how he would do that.
“I will bring them Christmas presents,” he said.
They asked the 2-year-old where he would get the money. He matter-of-factly replied he would use money from his own piggy bank.
His parents were so amazed by their young son’s caring attitude that they decided to make his goal a reality.
And “Noah’s Outreach” was born.
“Noah has been helping with Camden since the age of 2. He told us he wants to be a doctor,” Jamie said.
During a recent visit to the hospital, Jamie said her son, who will turn 5 in January, looked at the gastro-intestinal pediatrician.
“He said to him, ‘Thank you for helping my brother. One day I am going to be a belly doctor, too.'”
For more information on Noah’s Outreach, search for its page on Facebook.