Tuesday, September 28, 2010

My Hero

From Jo Floyd Lucas

He’s not a military veteran of Iraq, Iran, or Afghanistan. He wanted to join the Marine Corps right out of high school, as his grandfather had done, but was denied at the end of an intense recruitment process because of a ‘physical limitation.’ Nevertheless, he’s displayed the valor of a warrior on many occasions. He has the scars to prove it.

He’s not a policeman, or a firefighter. These men and women are brave, to be sure, and may be called upon to face their mortality at some point in time, but my hero stared down Death with a calm and steady gaze several times before the age of thirty.

He’s not a doctor who has discovered the cure for cancer. That would be heroic, indeed, worthy of great laurels, but heroic feats are also sometimes accomplished by the people lying on the operating tables, rather than working over them.

He’s not a wealthy philanthropist with the ability to donate large sums of money to help countless throngs of needy people. Still, he gives generously of his time and talent and ability, renewing hope, rebuilding lives, and reaching one person at a time with his message of perseverance, persistence, and empowerment.

He’s my son, Tony.

Tony was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease (an Inflammatory Bowel Disease affecting 1.4 million Americans) at the age of ten. I first saw that determined look of bravery when he underwent an intestinal biopsy to determine the cause of his weight loss, fatigue, and unrelenting fevers. We were in the state-of-the-art Pediatric Gastroenterology Department at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. They presented Tony with a stainless steel ball (about the size of a large ‘shooter’ marble), attached to a long thin tube. The stainless steel ball contained tiny ‘jaws’ that would pinch off samples of the lining of the small intestine.

Tony was sitting on a table in the middle of a treatment room. The doctor showed Tony the steel ball, and asked, “Do you think you can swallow this for me?” I stood in stunned silence as I watched a cadre of nurses and techs approach him from behind, armed with straps and towels meant to assist in wrestling this little fellow to the table in the event that he needed ‘help’ in swallowing the ball. Tony’s eyes met mine, and I smiled, shrugged my shoulders, and said, “Just like that pizza you eat every Friday night, Honey.”

He knew exactly what I meant. He looked from me to the steel ball, picked it up out of the doctor’s hand, and popped it into his mouth, and gulped. Done. Just like that.

Now it was the doctor’s turn to be stunned. He stared in disbelief for a few moments, certain that the steel ball would pop back out of Tony’s mouth at any moment. Nope. It was down and the biopsy was finished in record time. The entire room let out an audible sigh of relief, and I knew that Tony had taken his first courageous step toward conquering his nemesis that day.

In the twenty-three years that have followed, my son has shown the bravery of the lionhearted through countless procedures, treatments (some experimental), surgeries, and complications. His abdomen bears witness by the scars of the battles he has fought. He has had the help of a loving family and great friends, and in recent years, a gorgeous wife and two beautiful children to fight alongside him. He has had many great doctors who have done much to help him fight this formidable foe, and the infinite power of a loving God at his side. But it has been up to Tony alone to face the danger and adversity with the courage and composure of a hero. He has withstood it all with the patience of a saint and the endurance of a marathoner.

Oh, but he has done so much more than simply withstand this trial! As heroes do, he has taken this fearsome opponent and turned it into an opportunity to accomplish something for the greater good. When he could have resigned himself to a lifetime of illness, he has embraced fitness. When he could have taken the advice of several medical professionals to apply for Social Security disability benefits, he chose instead to continue to work and support his family. When he might have become dependent, despondent, or depressed, he took a lifetime of lessons on the inner workings of the human body and nutrition, and used it to educate and inspire others by his heroic example.

And though Crohn’s Disease caused Tony to lose his entire colon a few years ago, he never gave up on his dreams. Today he is the proud owner of a CrossFit affiliate gym called CrossFit Ares, named for the Greek god of War. How appropriate! He trains elite athletes, first responders, doctors, and recruits heading for military service. As a certified fitness trainer, his clients have included old and young, the fit and the obese, the healthy and the chronically ill. I daresay that not one of them has ever had the slightest idea that their trainer—the one pushing them so hard to be the very best version of themselves that they could be—has fought battles every bit as fierce as the ones they face. They only see the friendly, approachable, can-do guy who, for some mysterious reason, is able to convince each one of them that they can overcome any obstacle. Oh, yeah. That's heroism.

You may wonder if my other three children or even my husband might be jealous of hearing me call Tony my hero, but I’m pretty sure that if you asked each of them who their hero is, they would give you the same name, too.

Happy Birthday, Tony! You are my hero.

Click below to find out more about the work being done to end Crohn's Disease and Ulcerative Colitis.

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