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Judy Hill: A 6-year-old grandchild's inspirational lesson — never give up

March's Grands column featured flippant advice I offered my eldest grandson on the occasion of his 17th birthday.

This month's column focuses on some sober lessons another family's grandson — who almost didn't live through his first day on Earth — taught his grandmother while he struggled for life.

In a time when good news seems in short supply, the story of the McPhersons' grandson Luke and his extended family also provides a welcome respite from the gloom.

Linda and Hank McPherson wintered in Hudson. The couple recently went back to their permanent home in New Brighton, Pa., near Pittsburgh.

Before they left, Linda sent LifeTimes a lengthy e-mail about her grandson, now 6, who lives with his parents in another small Pennsylvania town a few miles away.

Luke, four more grandchildren and their parents spent Easter at the McPhersons in New Brighton.

"(Luke) showed up at my door wearing floppy, paper rabbit ears," said Linda when I talked to her recently.

The third of four children, Luke was a preemie delivered by caesarean section. At only 29 weeks, he weighed less than 1  ½ pounds at birth excluding the rare teratoma tumor covering his face, which added another 1  ½ pounds.

When Linda saw Luke for the first time, she says, the tumor looked like "road kill" and pediatricians said the baby might not live.

So she silently said hello and goodbye to the tiny child whose kneecap "was the size of my thumbnail," she wrote.

But Luke survived and the benign tumor that filled his sinus, nasal and oral cavities before ballooning outside his skull was removed.

During his recovery, the baby weathered numerous tests and procedures, a cardiac arrest, a stroke that caused brain damage, infections, medical mistakes and helicopter emergency transports, Linda wrote.

Six years later, the youngster whose condition was so rare and complicated that it was the subject of medical papers, is in kindergarten, says his proud grandma, a retired public school teacher who spent 34 years in the classroom.

"By most measures, he is a typical 6-year-old," she says.

"However, there isn't anything average about what his brief life has taught me and my family."

Those lessons include not giving up.

"My daughter and her husband considered stopping all medical treatment and letting nature take its course rather than subject Luke's tiny body to more invasion. His doctor reminded them that Luke hadn't given up and neither should they."

In the course of long years of hospitalizations, Luke has learned to use humor to temper life's unpleasantness, Linda wrote.

He plays jokes on medical professionals when he's forced to go for check-ups — including limping and dragging a leg like the hunchback Igor when doctors unfamiliar with his case ask him to walk.

He has, says his grandmother, "a terrific sense of humor."

Luke has also learned to be comfortable with who he is.

Extremely outgoing, especially with adults, Luke doesn't perceive himself as physically different.

"I doubt it ever crosses his mind that someone might find his appearance unsettling," Linda wrote.

People sometimes do a double-take when they see the rail-thin boy with the slightly misshapen head, gums the tumor formed into crescents, and large eyes behind thick glasses.

Linda says she just smiles knowing that he's a miracle.

No one knows what Luke's long-term prognosis is, Linda says.

So far, he has surpassed everything family and physicians had hoped for him in those early days and then some.

Here's hoping Luke outlives us all.

Judy Hill is a freelance writer living in St. Petersburg. She can be reached in care of LifeTimes, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731 or at

Judy Hill: A 6-year-old grandchild's inspirational lesson — never give up 04/27/09 [Last modified: Monday, April 27, 2009 4:30am]
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