Life support

Bowen, Ton not fighting their medical battles alone

Seniors+Phong+Ton%2C+left%2C+and+Sang+Tran+have+developed+a+tight+bond+since+Ton+was+left+paralyzed+in+May.+

Robyn Gamboa

Seniors Phong Ton, left, and Sang Tran have developed a tight bond since Ton was left paralyzed in May.

Seniors Jade Bowen and Phong Ton are fighters. They are both at war with medical traumas that have their young bodies in limbo. Bowen is battling leukemia; Ton is fighting to walk again after being paralyzed in a car accident. While they shoulder the strain of long hospital stays, rehabilitation and bouts of depression, they are not carrying the load on their own. Each one has a long line of support; family, friends, nurses and teachers all work hard to keep Bowen’s and Ton’s spirits lifted. This story is the second in a series as The Journal documents their road to recovery.

“They’re there for me”

Many teenagers feel and act as if they’re invincible. Support in any way, shape or form is generally scoffed at. This was no different for Phong Ton.

“Before the accident, I guess I didn’t really have a support system,” Ton said, describing his perspective before the life changing car accident involving him and five other Cleveland seniors last May.

“Maybe I didn’t need one honestly.”

Ton’s attitude has changed greatly since then, largely due to the trauma that went along with the accident. Like many in his position, Ton has turned to his family and friends for support.

“They are all there differently, but they’re there for me,” Ton said, commenting on the way his family has bolstered him since leaving the hospital. When asked who the main support system in his life was, Ton hesitated. While his Mom is his biggest support, Ton admits that sometimes their relationship can be tense. This is understandable for a family following a traumatic experience, but because of the strain, Ton looks for solace outside of his family as well.

“I think probably my main support system right now is my friends,” he said. Ton can be seen nearly every day in AP Biology teacher Megan Claus’ classroom during lunch, the nucleus of a throng of his closest friends.

“When I first came back to school I was worried they wouldn’t hang out with me because, A: I take up a lot of space, and B: I attract a lot of attention,” Ton admitted.

This was not the case for seniors Sang Tran, Devin Doss and Ji Hun Cha, three of Ton’s closest friends. When Doss and Tran were asked directly whether they felt like their friendship with Ton had deteriorated following the accident, both replied without hesitation.

“No. Definitely not.”

“It’s bad that the accident had to change [our friendship] for the better, but it’s cool because we’re closer,” explained Tran. Ton met Tran late in their sophomore year, but they’ve become closer over the last eight months. Tran and Doss regularly meet at Ton’s house to support their friend with some normal hangout time. Cha, who has been helping Ton with college applications, echoed the same sentiment

“I feel we got closer after the accident,” he said. “Especially at this kind of time, I think he needs more support from his friends.”

Readjustments

While most of Ton’s friends have answered this call, there are always those who shy away from hard scenarios. Faced with the reality that Ton has a long road to recovery, some friends shied away.

“People were kind of leaving because of his situation,” Cha explained. But for the people that didn’t leave, Ton soon realized “that people aren’t friends with you just because you can walk.”

Ton’s charisma and sociability is a huge part of this; not only do people like him, he likes people.

“Being able to see different people, see different views, and talk to people are the only reasons I come to school,” Ton admitted. Ideas like this support him just as much as the people around him. Using this, Ton has done his best to stay positive.

“[The therapists] told me … there’s two options: I either stay this way, and that’s fine too because there are people in wheelchairs who live normal lives. Or I can recover and maybe be back to normal in a few years, and that’s normal, too. They just told me that whatever happens, there are people out there living both of those outcomes. That was really helpful,” Ton said. “My life isn’t completely over … I’m still a normal person.”

Senior Jade Bowen’s mom, Kari Childs, left, spends every day at Seattle Children’s Hospital as her daughter battles leukemia. Bowen was diagnosed in June and received a stem cell transplant on Nov. 12.
Tina Dang
Senior Jade Bowen’s mom, Kari Childs, left, spends every day at Seattle Children’s Hospital as her daughter battles leukemia. Bowen was diagnosed in June and received a stem cell transplant on Nov. 12.

Going to battle

Jade Bowen’s unexpected diagnosis of acute lymphoblastic leukemia blindsided her friends and family. The reality of the situation nearly broke her. The many hands supporting her, however, keep her strong against this battle of a lifetime. Bowen’s family and friends have united under this trauma, forming an impenetrable support system.

“I don’t know how I’m going to deal with this,” Bowen said upon hearing her diagnosis. But her long, arduous road to recovery has not been a solo journey. From the moment she received her diagnosis, Bowen has been flooded with immense support from her parents and friends. Bowen’s mom and dad experienced her pain as if it was their own.

Kari Childs recalls the day of her daughter’s diagnosis vividly. Bowen was brought to the emergency room after a stretch of illness that included vomiting, lack of appetite and the sensation of her sides caving in. As a mother, she was gravely upset upon hearing the severity of Jade’s condition.

“I was hurt because it was Jade and not me,” Childs said. Both she and Jade’s father, Eddie Bowen, were overwhelmed with the news that their daughter had cancer.

“I immediately stood up and told [the doctor] to give me a minute,” Eddie said.  “I walked out and just fell on the floor in the nurse’s place and started crying.”

Ironically, in that tough moment, Jade became the support that her dad needed. She walked over to her dad and gave him a hug, trying to reassure him.

“I’ll be okay,” Jade said, tears welling in her eyes.

Positive vibes

On Nov. 12, Jade underwent a stem cell transplant. While the operation was successful, she soon fell ill. Jade was once again moved to the Intensive Care Unit of Children’s Hospital.

“Lord, she just finished beating cancer – why this?” Childs said. “I thought we were moving on from this, but God has more plans with Jade.”

Jade was hooked up to a ventilator for the beginning portion of her stay, but her lungs are now stable and she’s breathing on her own. Doctors are continuing to restore the health of her body, specifically in her kidneys.

Childs is spending long nights at the hospital for the sake of keeping Jade company through this difficult process.

Eddie has played an equally pivotal role in Jade’s recovery process. He has motivated Jade through physical therapy, pushing her to never give up and to always keep a smile on her face.

“I would go up with her and joke around with her; she called me ‘sergeant,’” Eddie said.

Her support system bolsters her determination to graduate, and even encouraged her get an orange ribbon on the side of her class ring. Orange is the color used to bring awareness to leukemia.

Eddie’s comforting words have helped Jade remember that while her road to recovery may not be over yet, she knows that she has a support system that will walk with her through high school and beyond.

Team Jade

Jade also receives support from the aide workers at Children’s Hospital. Her amiable relationship with her nurses helps her to remain in high spirits. A number of Jade’s nurses have also battled cancer. She has been inspired to follow their footsteps in the future.

“I want to go to college to be a nurse to work with cancer patients,” Jade said.

Jade’s support extends far into the local community. She has received a large amount of support online, especially through the “Team Jade” movement. Her peers on the cheerleading squad sport “Team Jade” gear as they walk down the halls of Cleveland, while others show their support by posting orange ribbons inscribed with “#teamjade” on the side on social media. Her regular visitors include close classmates from middle school and high school. Seniors Ryshel and Ryshun Sampson are determined to help Jade graduate and bring her schoolwork from her classes to the hospital.

Jade’s support system is optimistic that she will overcome this tough obstacle in her life. Her mother is hopeful, but knows that every bit of support helps.

“Keep Jade up in prayer and positive vibes and know from this standpoint she will be victorious.”

The Journal will be following Jade Bowen and Phong Ton as they wind down their road to recovery. Coming in February: What’s next?