31 Days:: Dillon Strong
Day 31: Dillon Strong
What do you do when you’re a person who strings words together to make sense of your heart… but your heart is so jumbled up and overwhelmed that, try as you might, you literally cannot find appropriate words to display the depth of emotion and inspiration you feel about something or someone?
Because that’s how I feel about the O’Leary family and the journey they’ve been on the past six months.
The moment I found out that Dillon was in a coma at Oakland Children’s Hospital due to a sudden and mysterious brain bleed, my head started swirling and my heart felt as though it had just dropped out of my chest and was laying like a lifeless stone at my feet. School had just ended for the day, and I was standing outside my daughter and Dillon’s fifth grade classroom, surrounded by happy parents picking up their chatty kids after a long day at school. It was the National Day of Prayer and, although I had been unable to meet with my fellow praying moms that morning at the flag pole before school, I was touching base with one of them now, asking how this morning went. She told me that just as they were about to pray that morning, Dillon’s dad had rushed out of the school building, clearly distraught about something, and she asked him if there was anything they could pray about for him? In a breathless rush, he said “Yes! Dillon almost died last night. He collapsed at his baseball game and is in a coma at Oakland Children’s. His brain won’t stop bleeding. No one knows what is going on.” And then he ran out to his car to rush back to the hospital.
Dillon. Sweet, silly, energetic, fun-loving Dillon. I have known this little guy since he was in first grade and he and Abby were in the K/1 combo class together. And now, at the time I received this heartbreaking news, he was 11 1/2 and in fifth grade with my daughter Ellie. Just a few weeks before Dillon’s collapse, I was laughing delightedly with his parents as we watched our kids put on a silly play-of-sorts for a creative history lesson they were doing at school. He was Benjamin Franklin, balding head-wig and all, dramatically walking with a cane and scratchily giving his speech about all the ways he has helped America progress. I remember being so tickled by his silly theatrics that I leaned back to comment to his parents about what a hoot he was. They both, as usual, watched their son with shining eyes and joyful smiles, equally entertained by his antics. I remember the three of us remarking that we wondered what he was going to be when he grows up.
But now here he was— who knew why— on the brink of death?!?! What could possibly be happening in this amazing young man’s body to cause his brain to start malfunctioning in such a way?!?
As soon as I heard the news, I breathed “Oh, Lord,” which God knew meant “Please help him and heal him and bring hope and courage to his family right now.” Then, wanting more information if at all possible, I instructed my kids to go play on the playground for a bit and I went into Dillon and Ellie’s classroom to ask the teacher if she knew any more about his current status. She didn’t. All she knew was that he had complained of a headache two days prior and she had sent him to the office to have the school secretary look him over. Tearfully, the teacher and I looked at each other, feeling powerless. Neither of us had any answers. I asked her if maybe we could pray together if it wasn’t too weird for her? She said “sure” and we prayed right there in that empty classroom, Dillon’s lit-up solar system project blinking at us from the sidelines.
That was back in the first week of May. Almost six full months ago. Every single day since then, my heart has been burdened for this amazing young man and his courageous and infinitely positive family. I have knelt by my daughters’ beds and prayed with them every night for Dillon’s healing, the doctors’ wisdom, and God’s peace, courage, hope and even joy to fill up Dillon’s amazing parents and his tender-hearted big sister.
And, although it has been heartbreaking and heavy along the way, it has truly been an amazing journey. Although we still don’t know for sure what the original cause of all this drama was, and another blow of bad news surfaced just a few days ago that has stunned us yet again, Dillon is working hard to show us that he’s still in there and he’s still determined to come out of this victorious. Through a ton of patience, hard work, and positivity from his parents, his extended family and friends, and the medical team at Oakland Children’s Hospital, Dillon has gone from “will he make it?” comatose all the way to being able to sit up in a chair, brush his own teeth, help put his own socks on, roll his own wheelchair, write his name, and even speak of his desire to go to college at Duke someday!!! The amount of ups and downs on this journey have been too numerous for a person to count, but overall the general trajectory of his progress has been positive.
Dillon still has a long road ahead of him— just yesterday he had a potentially cancerous mass surgically removed from his spine— but the progress he has made and the strength and determination he has displayed thus far are nothing less than miraculous. I literally do not have words to describe how inspiring he and his lionhearted family are. As his uncle said at the beginning of this road, we are all believing that this chapter of Dillon’s life is “a minor setback for a major comeback” for this incredible, strong young warrior.
Although of course I am burdened and heavy-hearted as I cheer Dillon on from the bleachers, I can only attempt to imagine the roller coaster of emotions and faith-testing that is going on constantly in the hearts of his stellar family. As his dad so aptly posted on Facebook a few weeks ago:
“The emotions have gone from 0-100 and back down… We as a family and community are all being tested everyday… It is and will be a long road of prayer, strength, pain, frustration and joyful celebration, and by the grace of God, Dillon is doing it, and continuing to do it… This young man has and is being blessed everyday. Everyone seems to be touched or inspired by Dillon, and being made to teach, love and never give up no matter what… We are all now connected through Dillon. He will not slack so he expects all of you in our community to expect greatness, friendship and growth with each other… Be DILLON STRONG TODAY!”
Amen, O’Leary’s. We are with you. We will continue to pray for and support and love you in whatever ways we can as you continue to fight this unspeakably challenging uphill battle before you.
(For those of you unfamiliar with Dillon’s story, feel free to hop on the family’s GoFundMe page to donate to them or to receive periodic updates on Dillon’s progress.)
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What about you?
Who inspires you to be stronger than you might otherwise think possible?
Please feel free to share your journey in the comment section below.