Family of Banks Junior High eighth-grader who suffered stroke buoyed by community support

by: COURTESY PHOTOS - The White family of Banks -- Joe, Emma, Dave and Jeanne -- took a trip to New York City in December 2013, paid for by donations from Daves colleagues at the Hillsboro Police Department and anonymous business owners (above). There was a lot of pink in the hallways at Banks Junior High School on Friday, Jan. 24.

Students wore pink T-shirts, skirts, scarves and other clothing in honor of eighth-grader Joe White, who was fighting for his life in a Portland hospital after suffering a stroke and enduring emergency brain surgery three days earlier.

Classmate Elizabeth Dufur organized the show of support, she said, because Joe — a soft-spoken football and baseball aficionado — “always wears pink socks” to school.

That’s just one example of the outpouring of encouragement Dave and Jeanne White and their kids, Joe and Emma, have received from their community in recent weeks as they slog through a horrific medical ordeal that has taxed their physical and emotional reserves.

“Friends and family are here for us of course,” said Jeanne White, who describes her son as a “kind-hearted, laid-back” person who likes video games and hanging out with his friends. “But people we don’t even know are reaching out as well. I get overwhelmed just thinking about it.”

Forest Grove friends Kelly and John Campbell have given Emma, a sixth-grader at Banks Elementary, a home away from home Monday through Friday so her parents can tend to her brother’s many needs. “She comes home on the weekends,” Jeanne said of her daughter, who turned 12 on Jan. 24. “She wanted to keep going to class. Her refuge has been at school.”

Time bomb in the brainA friend created a Facebook page, Stay Brave Joe White, dedicated to the 14-year-olds recovery from a stroke and brain surgery, and a special-message icon as well.

Joe, 14, was taking batting practice during open gym on Jan. 19 when he complained of a bad headache. Moments later, he collapsed.

“He had gone over to get a drink of water,” said his father, a Hillsboro Police Department patrol sergeant. “Joe’s coach called me and I shot over there.

“When I arrived I looked at Joe, and he smiled. That’s when I saw the left side of his face wasn’t working right.”

Someone called 911 and within minutes an ambulance was headed east on Highway 26, Jeanne riding in the back with her ailing son.

“It’s all a blur,” Dave said Saturday. “It’s been a couple of weeks, and it feels like a lifetime — but also not long at all.”

The frantic parents soon learned that a vein had burst in Joe’s brain, causing the stroke and partial paralysis. The culprit was an arteriovenous malformation (AVM), an abnormal connection between a person’s arteries and veins.

The Whites had no idea their son had the congenital condition, which can be debilitating or even fatal.

“He didn’t have seizures and hadn’t had headaches beyond what kids normally have,” said Dave. “They call AVM a ‘time bomb in the brain.’ You don’t know it’s there until it manifests.”

On Tuesday, Jan. 21, Joe “crashed really hard,” his dad said. Doctors had to intubate him and place a stent in his brain to siphon off fluid. They removed the AVM during the operation as well.

“It was touch and go there for a while,” Dave, who has remained at his son’s hospital bedside 24 hours a day, said of the jumble of events that took place last month. “One of his doctors told us he didn’t think Joe was going to make it.”

Another voiced a different bleak outlook: if Joe survived, he could have longstanding cognitive and developmental disabilities.

But the spunky teen wouldn’t quit. Since the evening he arrived in Providence St. Vincent Medical Center’s emergency department — then was taken to Doernbecher Children’s Hospital at Oregon Health & Science University and finally transferred to Legacy Emanuel Medical Center’s Randall Children’s Hospital — he’s fought his way back from the brink.

Joe’s left side is still weak, but no longer paralyzed, and he’s alert and talking. And now that he’s had the surgery, it’s unlikely the problem will return, his father said.

Over the weekend he walked up and down the hallways at Randall unassisted. Physical therapists and speech therapists, called in to put him through his paces, have been amazed at his progress.

“I think the sky’s the limit for him,” Dave White said. “No one has put a boundary on what Joe can do.”

Mom has cancer

Jeanne, a homemaker who has had her own serious health challenges in recent years, continues the hospital vigil during the day, allowing Dave to sometimes catch a nap or shower. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005 and underwent a single mastectomy and post-treatment reconstructive surgery. Jeanne was cancer-free for seven years before doctors discovered the malignancy had spread to her bones in 2012.

“My doctors have given me three years,” Jeanne, 41, a 1990 graduate of Banks High School, said through tears. “But we’re hoping for more like six or seven. It’s hard, because you try to focus on the life you have right here, right now.”

Her husband of 16 years chimed in: “There’s no other option except to keep trying and keep moving ahead.”

The couple — and their community — aren’t giving up on Joe, either.

“Yesterday a close friend stopped by and dropped off a baseball for Joe,” Dave wrote Jan. 30 on “Stay Brave Joe White,” a Facebook page created by friends of the Whites and dedicated to Joe. “It reminded him of Joe [because] the stitching on the ball matched the stitching on Joe’s COURTESY PHOTO - Joe White, 14, an eighth-grader at Banks Junior High School, enjoys playing football in the fall. But his favorite sport is baseball, according to his parents, Dave and Jeanne White.

“It was smooth and white but leathery tough. It was hard, just like Joe’s head. And it represents a goal to get to.”

The ball then underwent a transformation of its own. Pediatric Intensive Care Unit staff members who’d cared for Joe at Doernbecher signed the baseball and presented it to the young athlete before his discharge and ride across the Willamette River to Randall.

Then the tight group of “angels in nurses’ clothing,” as Dave calls them, bade Joe farewell and good luck.

Since settling into Randall’s inpatient therapy unit, Joe has made good progress with his speech and is gaining strength physically, remastering some of his fine motor skills. His family has been concerned about his appetite — doctors have been threatening to insert a feeding tube if he doesn’t start to take in more calories on his own — but early Sunday morning he “woke up and scarfed down three slices of pizza,” his mother said. “That was a good sign.”

He looked forward to a visit from his cousin, Kyle Hein of Forest Grove, that afternoon and planned to watch the Super Bowl with “the boys,” Jeanne added.

‘Keep him laughing

Helping Joe maintain a sense of humor through the rigors of physical therapy — sessions that are painful and frustrating at times — is one of Dave’s goals.

“He laughed for the first time since he’s been in the hospital yesterday and I have decided to make it a mission to keep him laughing.”

Joe’s strides are due at least in part, his parents believe, to the support and well-wishes he’s received from townsfolk in Banks and beyond.

“I’m not super religious,” noted Jeanne, “but I turn toward family and friends — and their prayers are welcome.”

Friend Christy Greagor has known Jeanne since the two women were in second grade. She is buoyed by the acts of compassion going out to her friends.

“I am so amazed at our community and the kids in the junior high,” who have brought meals, run errands and sent Joe and his family caring messages via social media. “All the prayers and support from those kids to Joe are beautiful.”

Darcy Vandenhoek, an evidence technician at the Hillsboro Police Department, suggested the Whites start a GoFundMe campaign online. As of last week, $5,770 had been donated toward defraying the costs of a hospital bed and other medical devices Joe might need in his bedroom once he gets back home.

“That’s all he really wants — to come home,” Dave said. “He’s willing to do the work because he has that goal. Joe is definitely making strides. We’re cautiously optimistic.”

Whether it’s two more weeks or two more months before Joe gets his discharge papers, it’s clear he and his parents are counting on his recovery. Dave returned to the baseball metaphor to describe the White family’s determination to surmount Joe’s medical troubles and Jeanne’s cancer.

“You get thrown a curve ball and you catch it,” he said. “Then you move forward. You don’t get to give up ... you don’t get to throw in the towel.

“You don’t get to hide in a closet and cry — for long, anyway.”

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