Joyful times for the Saunders family as they celebrated life with their youngest son and brother Greyson, as he kissed a dolphin, swam in the ocean and played and laughed in Hawaii. A wish come true for Greyson by the Make-A-Wish Foundation after he “graduated to survivorship” following nearly two years of battling a rare form of autoimmune hepatitis and a severe complication with his bone marrow that left him unable to fight infection and/or be around people.
By Patte Smith; photos courtesy of the Saunders family
Greyson Saunders is a joyful young boy who celebrated his ninth birthday on August 30. His giggle is infectious and makes those around him want to swoop him up and hug him. With such a positive attitude, he is ready to take on the world.
A few years ago, this was not the case. When Greyson was in kindergarten, his parents, Amber and Jon Saunders, started to notice the whites of his eyes turning yellow. They took him to Children’s Hospital only to discover that Greyson’s liver had begun to fail. The doctors diagnosed him with a rare form of autoimmune hepatitis. He was in the hospital for several weeks.
“We faced a long, unusual road – it was a very scary time for us,” said Amber. “The medical team was able to save his liver through a series of aggressive treatments and medications. Greyson was doing well, and his liver enzymes gradually started to improve.”
Four months later, Greyson developed severe aplastic anemia, a complication of his bone marrow that was unable to produce normal amounts of blood cells, including white blood cells that fight infection. For Greyson, a common cold became life threatening and every fever he developed required a hospital stay. He could not go out in public. On the rare times he did need to go out, he had to wear a thick surgical mask.
“We called our new life ‘the bleach bubble,’” explained Amber. “We felt isolated and tried to keep our spirits up. We were trying to balance our lives, and with anguish in our hearts, we had to face the fact that Greyson might not survive.”
He needed a blood stem cell transplant and no one in Greyson’s family was a good genetic match, so a search began for a donor. After several months, the Saunderses received great news that a blood stem cell donor had been found – an anonymous gentleman from Poland.
Greyson was required to stay in an isolated ward of Children’s Hospital for a month, and then several weeks of day-treatments prior to his transplant.
Greyson went through several rounds of chemotherapy and radiation before he could receive his new stem cells. He was not allowed to have visitors.
The Saunders family continued to struggle, and thankfully a social worker at Children’s Hospital arranged for the family to stay at Brent’s Place near the hospital for the duration of his treatment.
“Thank goodness for Brent’s Place,” sighed Amber. “We lived there three months after Greyson was discharged from the hospital. There really are no words to describe this wonderful place and the people who work there. Everyone was kind and responsive to us and we built relationships with the staff, parents and family members who understood our plight. All of us could openly share our feelings and fears. What a relief. From the moment our family stayed there, Jon, Greyson and I have supported this incredible organization every chance we get.”
After Greyson “graduated to survivorship,” the students at Golden High School selected him as their “hero” at its annual Make-A-Wish Foundation fundraiser. After a long recuperation, Greyson’s wish of swimming with the dolphins came true, and the family embarked on a dream trip to Hawaii together.
Greyson (front), a happy young boy with a wish come true sharing it with his family in Hawaii. From left to right, big brother Blake, his mom Amber and dad Jon, and his big sister Addie.
Nowadays, you can find third grader Greyson hanging out with his friends at Buffalo Ridge Elementary school and enjoying his favorite class, recess. “He loves being social and making friends,” smiled Amber. “After two years of not having contact with family and friends, he is making it up on the playground!”
At home he has learned to code and is continually building games in Scratch. “I set up commands and you have to be careful not to spawn a zombie,” Greyson explained.
Greyson has a positive attitude, a loving family and two dogs he adores. He is making up for lost time and is on the go. When asked what else he might like he said, “I want to own all the dogs in the world.” Wow, that takes some energy – and energy that Greyson thankfully now has.