LP toddler recovering from liver transplant

Photo courtesy of the Allen family T.J. Allen of Lincoln Park braved liver cancer and is now finding a new life with a new liver. T.J. turns 3 in February, a birthday his parents and family feared he wouldn't make.

Photo courtesy of the Allen family
T.J. Allen of Lincoln Park braved liver cancer and is now finding a new life with a new liver. T.J. turns 3 in February, a birthday his parents and family feared he wouldn’t make.

Mother encourages cards for T.J.

By TEREASA NIMS
Sunday Times Newspapers

LINCOLN PARK – The Allen family wasn’t certain of the fate for 2-year-old T.J., who was diagnosed with liver cancer last year – but on Jan. 8, he received a liver.

T.J.’s dad, Timothy Allen, said his son was moved from the Intensive Care Unit at Detroit Children’s Hospital Jan. 10 and put in a regular room.

“His throat hurts so bad,” Timothy said of his son. “He doesn’t want to talk.”

To help in T.J.’s continued progress, his father and mother, Shannon, are encouraging recovery cards. They want to line hospital room walls and house walls with gestures of love for their son.

The parents’ plight reaches beyond the state.

Students in second through fifth grade at JM Bevins Elementary School in Grundy, Va., are sending T.J. letters and cards this week, said teacher Jenny Menshouse McClanahan.

T.J. is in a regular room, but still has a nose tube and is expected to spend a few more weeks in the hospital recovering and receiving chemotherapy.

During the holiday season, Christmas cards took over half of the living room at the Allens’ house. Now the family strives to fill another part of the wall with recovery cards.

“The biggest goal right now is to get him to eat and drink,” Timothy Allen said.

Doctors reportedly told T.J.’s parents that mouth sores would develop after a few weeks of chemotherapy. T.J. had them on the third day of treatment.

“I was the only one who could get him to try eating or drinking with (the sores,)” Allen said.

On Aug. 18, T.J. could not go to the bathroom. Allen said his son never complained, but that day he said his tummy hurt. Then he went back to playing. Later in the day, the child complained again. His parents knew something was wrong.

The parents took T.J. to a nearby hospital. Allen said doctors gave his son suppositories, but they didn’t help. Then began the routine of going back and forth to the hospital – each time seeking answers to their son’s pain.

Then physicians took images of T.J.’s liver and sent them to Detroit Children’s Hospital. Allen said that’s when the doctors saw two masses on T.J.’s liver. He said one was the size of a softball and the other the size of a baseball.

Doctors started chemotherapy. The therapy was shrinking the tumors, but physicians agreed the toddler needed a new liver.

T.J.’s doctor, Kelly Collins, who has done more than 200 transplants, drew praise from the parents.

“They showed us pictures of the old liver compared to the new one,” Allen said. “What a difference.”

While T.J.’s family is grateful for their son’s life, they are not forgetful of the family that made the donation possible.

“If the parents of the donor want to reach out, I would be all to happy to introduce them to T.J., let them know who their son or daughter’s liver is with,” Allen said. “All we know was it was a teenager.

“It’s horrible to think another child had to die in order for mine to live.”

T.J.’s parents were frightened as their son headed into surgery, saying they worried doctors might find more cancer. Allen said they were thankful that wasn’t the case.

The Allens are stay-at-home parents. Timothy works in after-market accessory installations, tint, alarms, stereos and remote starters. He said he currently isn’t working because his son asks for him constantly.

He said it makes it difficult to make ends meet with all the work he’s missed. The family is frugal and hoping to be able to stay in their house.

During the holidays, several people adopted the family. He said not just for T.J. and his two sisters, but for the parents, too. Allen said someone left a present on the family’s porch daily for the 12 days of Christmas. Each had something to do with the corresponding day.

“I might have been able to follow their footprints in the snow, but I didn’t want to spoil it,” Allen said. “If they had wanted me to know who they were, they would have said.

“It’s amazing someone would do that! Every day! For 12 days!”

He said people who didn’t even know the family adopted them for the holidays.

“Our living room looked like Walmart,” Allen said. “It took two hours to open all the gifts for the three kids. What an amazing experience. So many people cared so much.”

Then came the day for T.J.’s surgery. He was set for surgery at 1 p.m. Jan. 8. Then it was postponed until 7 p.m.

Timothy said that from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., T.J. was hungry and thirsty.

“We felt like we were the worst parents in the world, telling him, ‘in a little bit’ repeatedly,” Allen said. “(T.J.) asked anyone and everyone for something to drink — even strangers in the hallway. And he normally doesn’t speak to strangers.”

Thankful the surgery is over, the family said the child in the hospital bed is just not the same little boy.

“We know he’ll get better,” Allen said. “It’s hard to see him like this, though.

“I thank God every single minute of the day that he got the liver and pray that he gets better quickly. He doesn’t really understand all that’s going on. The central line is in his neck — he’s afraid to move with it.”

One of the pressing matters is that T.J. needs to start coughing now as he is beginning to get congested. Allen said that now it is a waiting game in hopes that T.J. will return to normal. The child suffered some hearing loss, leaving people to sometimes have to clap to get his attention.

Doctors said T.J. will need anti-rejection medications for the rest of his life and should never have alcohol. Allen said T.J.’s teenage years will be “great” to navigate.

Recovery cards for T.J. can be sent to: 1056 Ford Blvd., Lincoln Park, MI, 48146.

For more information, go to www.facebook.com/events/111312749375458.

(Tereasa Nims can be reached at dstreporter@gmail.com.)