It sounds like something a 70-year-old would get after a lifetime of heavy drinking.
But Justin Hames isn’t 70, and he’s not a drinker. He’s a 14-year-old boy – a tall, healthy, athletic kid who loves to wrestle with his big brother, ride roller-coasters and play baseball.
That’s all been on hold since March 4, when the Boyd High School freshman came home from a weekend visit with his dad complaining of a stomachache.
“He had a low-grade fever,” said his mom, April Gray. “We thought it was a stomach bug. By Tuesday, we thought he might have appendicitis.”
They brought him to Wise Regional Health System in Decatur, where blood tests and a CAT scan revealed a much more serious problem.
“They came in and told me he did not have appendicitis but was in complete liver failure and needed an immediate transplant,” April said. “I just lost it, right there in the room.”
They were transferred to Cook Children’s Hospital in Fort Worth, where a series of tests revealed severe, acute cirrhosis of the liver. The vital organ had not completely failed, but it was functioning at about 15 or 20 percent.
They did other tests and were able to perform a liver biopsy after putting seven units of plasma, two of platelets and two units of whole blood into him.
What no one can tell them is how this young man got so sick.
“They said it seems to be caused by autoimmune hepatitis,” his mom said. “That can be caused by a virus, genetics or even the vaccines we give our children.”
Other problems were also discovered – some related to the liver problem. He’s now on a gluten-free, wheat-free diet and is getting high doses of vitamin K to help his blood regain its clotting ability.
Within six months to a year, he will likely go on the list for a liver transplant.
“Nothing’s been wrong with this child,” April said. “He’s perfectly healthy – fully involved in baseball, football, basketball, weight training. He’s 6-foot, 6-inches. Other than a few headaches I chalked up to teenage stress, you’d have never thought he had a life-threatening illness.”
The illness that has put his life at risk also puts the family in financial straits – but that’s something their neighbors in Boyd plan to do something about.
The “Fighting 4 Justin” 5K Run/Walk is scheduled next Saturday, May 3. Registration opens at 5 p.m., and the race starts at the Boyd High School baseball field at 6. Runners, then walkers, will go out Cemetery Road and return to finish at the field.
Pre-registration is $20, while race day registration is $25. There will be a crawfish boil immediately after the run/walk at the Pumpkin Patch, located at 548 Rock Island (Texas 114) across from Dollar General. That event will feature live music, and proceeds from both events will go to help Justin’s family with their bills.
Everyone who registers will get a “Fighting for Justin” bracelet good for free admission to the crawfish boil – although they’ll still have to pay to eat. For more information or to pre-register, visit fighting4justin.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jimmy Young and Michael Bombonati have helped organize the run/walk. Both have kids who are friends with Justin at BHS. They’re representative of a community that has rallied around a family.
“I’d be lost without my husband (Tom), my family, and without this town,” April said. “I joke around that we’re outsiders – we’ve lived here almost two years – but my maiden name’s Boyd. I introduce myself as April Boyd Gray, and it kind of helps.”
She said she and her family – Justin’s older brother Alex is a sophomore at Boyd High School – have been overwhelmed by all the support.
“Everybody in this town, they’re just like, ‘Whatever you need. If you just need us to stop and pray, or even if it’s just to come in here and cry,'” April said. “I tease everybody that I grew up in a ‘Leave it to Beaver’ neighborhood, with Ward and June as my parents, and Grapevine was Mayberry – and I brought my kids to that kind of town.
“That’s exactly what it’s like,” she continued. “That’s what every parent wants for their kid, to get them away from that craziness of the world, get them back to that. That’s what Boyd is.
“It’s our Mayberry, and it’s awesome.”
FIGHTING FOR JUSTIN 5K RUN/WALK
When: 6 p.m. Saturday May 3
Where: BHS Baseball Field
Registration opens 5 p.m. and is $25