Last month, I told the story of my nephew (and Godson), Jake Bloomfield, who died on May 1st at the age of thirty.
Yesterday, while unpacking some books, I found this letter. It was written by my husband, Michael Entis, just a couple of weeks before Jake’s seventh birthday.
“Sometime on Friday afternoon, March 1st, a special birthday party will take place at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children. Jake Bloomfield turns seven on that day.
Jake has been a patient at the Hospital more or less full time since the beginning of 1996. Jake has a brain tumor attached firmly to his brain stem. Since early January, Jake has heroically undergone four surgeries. This is Jake’s story.
Jake’s life began almost seven years ago in Mississauga. During his first two years of life, his speech and walking skills evolved at a much slower pace than the average child. With much patience on the part of his parents, the dedicated help of speech and physiotherapists, and especially Jake’s own willingness to see his way through the challenge that life had thrown at him, by the age of two, he was walking and making himself understood to all those that loved him.
At around the age of three, Jake’s father, Harvey, took a photo of Jake with a lopsided smirk on his face. That photo together with the caption “Make My Day” found its way into the Toronto Star (Mississauga Supplement). Little did Jake’s parents realize that Jake’s lopsided smirk was a reflection of the brain tumor that they were to discover only six months later.
It was a routine visit to the pediatrician that brought Jake and his parents, Barbara and Harvey, to the biggest challenge of their lives. Their doctor noticed a slight droop on one side of Jake’s face and suggested that they visit specialists at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children. Before very long, Jake and his parents met Dr. Humphreys, a highly respected pediatric neurosurgeon at the Hospital.
Dr. Humphreys determined that Jake had a very difficult brain stem tumor which had afflicted him since birth. An operation was scheduled and Dr. Humphreys was successful in removing about 1/3 of Jake’s tumor. The tumor was found to be benign (a low grade astrocytoma). Given Jake’s age, the doctors elected not to be more aggressive. They hoped that by disturbing the tumor and reducing its size, it might not develop further.
For three relatively peaceful years, Jake was able to resume the normal life of a youngster. Despite his disabilities, Jake’s endearing personality brought him close to his many friends, teachers and relatives.
In the summer of 1995, Jake began to suffer intolerable and persistent headaches. Jake was now six years of age. Once again, his parents escorted him to the Hospital for Sick Children. Dr. Humphreys determined that Jake was suffering high pressure headaches which could only be relieved by the implantation of a shunt, a device designed to relieve the pressure on the brain caused by excessive accumulation of cerebral spinal fluid. Jake had a shunt installed and a week later went home with his parents.
Then, it was December 1995. Jake’s world began to crumble. The headaches came on again, stronger than ever. And again, they marched back downtown to that hospital that was just too familiar. In mid-January 1996, Dr. Humphreys replaced Jake’s shunt due to low pressure headaches. A week later, he performed another surgery due to high pressure headaches. Jake was sent home for brief periods following each surgery. But the headaches continued to return to him relentlessly. In desperation, his parents once again rushed him back to the hospital. The doctors, using the most modern methods available in Canada, determined that Jake’s tumor had grown back and that he would, once again, have to undergo the surgeon’s knife.
Earlier in February (it feels like an age ago), Jake underwent his second major brain surgery to have his tumor “debulked”. Since that surgery, he has had still another surgery to remove his latest shunt device, which had become contaminated with a stubborn bacterial infection (Staph aureus). As I write this article, the doctors at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children are working tirelessly to rid Jake’s body of this bacterial alien.
On Friday, Jake turns seven. I’m his Uncle Michael (and also Jake’s Godfather). I would dearly love to wish Jake a wonderful seventh birthday and to express the fervent hope that Jake will enjoy many, many more birthdays surrounded by his many friends and devoted family.”
Michael sent this letter to Emery Worldwide. The international freight company orchestrated the delivery from San Diego, California of Jake’s birthday present – a model train set – to his hospital room, adding their own gift of a model airplane to the shipment.
Emery’s World (the magazine for Emery Worldwide employees) published a condensed version of the story in its July/August 1996 edition.