In 2007, Tim and Sara Barnard came face-to-face with a parent's worst fears. Their first-born, Benny, who'd been suffering from a nightly fever that everyone assumed was a virus, was diagnosed with leukemia. He was so sick that doctors at University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital admitted him for treatment on a Saturday.
Benny spent the next week in the hospital recovering and beginning chemotherapy. The Barnard family's nightmare was eased by the doctors, nurses, and staff of Ul Children's Hospital. "They were amazing," says Sara. "They made sure we understood everything that was happening to him." Tim agrees, "The staff is very relaxed but also very confident in what they do."
When Benny was healthy enough to be discharged, Sara and Tim were nervous about leaving the safe environment of the hospital. But, staff trained them and other family members how to care for Benny. "They really prepared us to bring him home," explains Sara.
At first, Benny returned to the hospital every week for chemotherapy. After a few months it was every two weeks, and finally every 28 days. He was declared to be in remission on Feb. 2, 2009. Now, Benny returns to the hospital every 28 days for additional chemotherapy and takes daily doses of oral medication at home.
Through it all, Benny has faced his challenges with courage and even child-like enthusiasm. Sara says, "He adores his doctors and nurses and asks to play with the Child Life staff every time he comes to the hospital." Even at his young age, Benny understands the importance of his treatments, even the painful or uncomfortable ones. "He knows his rules and is so good about all of this. I know that if it was me I could not be that brave," says Sara.
The Barnards have to be careful that Benny isn't exposed to any germs, especially contagious illnesses like the flu or colds. In 2009, hours after Sara had their second child, Clayton, Benny came down with H1N1 and had to be hospitalized. When Sara was in the hospital in Waterloo with Clayton and Tim was in Iowa City with Benny, the family still felt cared for by the Ul Children's Hospital staff. "The nurses made sure to get on the phone with me and tell me everything was going to be okay," Sara says.
Adds Tim, “UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital means everything to us. It is such a nice, easy place. It just doesn't feel like going to the doctor and hospital. I'd travel long distances to bring my child there."
Says Sara," He tells people he wants to raise money to find a cure for cancer, and has participated in his first Relay for Life."
Tim and Sara are grateful their son is doing so well. "I just want to see him grow up and be like everybody else," says Tim. But, for the moment, life with Benny is pretty special.