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"His Dragon is Gone": A Hobbit-inspired Riley story




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Ben Edwards, New Palestine, Ind.

Dear Ben and Blake,

Neither of you remember this, but I read you J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit when you couldn’t walk. Blake, I read it to you in the first months of your life. That was when your mother’s maternity leave ended on the first day of my summer vacation and I had to figure out how to entertain an infant. You would allow me to read about three pages at a time. Ben, I read the book to you while you lay on a bed in the emergency room at Riley. You couldn’t walk because of all the wires attached to you and because your head was still bandaged from your tumor-removal surgery.

Neither one of you was old enough to understand what happened to Ben in the spring of 2011, when he was just a year-and-a-half old. Maybe you’ll understand now if I tell the story right:

Not long after he started walking, Ben began falling down. He would wake up at night screaming but Mommy and Daddy didn’t want to believe this could be something serious.

As Bilbo Baggins said to the wizard Gandalf:

“Sorry! I don’t want any adventures, thank you. Not today. Good morning!... with that the hobbit turned and scuttled inside his round green door, and shut it as quickly as he dared.” (p. 14).

Then Ben got so sick that he had to have an MRI, where they found a tumor on the back of his brain which curled down onto the top of his brain stem. In The Hobbit, the dwarf Thorin tells of the dragon Smaug, who stole all of the treasure in the dwarfish homeland and:

“…piled it all up in a great heap far inside, and sleeps on it for a bed…” (p.33)

Ben’s cancer slept on a tumor bed on his brain, and we did not know if the dragon had been there long enough to dig its feet deeply into the gold. Then we met the band who would try to remove Ben’s dragon. Dr. Joel Boaz, Ben’s surgeon, didn’t have a long white beard like Gandalf but his grey goatee was looking bushy. Two days after Ben’s diagnosis, Dr. Boaz and his staff had to go deep into Ben’s head with their surgical tools.

"…Gandalf lit up his wand. Of course it was Gandalf..He took out his sword again, and again it flashed in the dark by itself. It burned with a rage that made it gleam…now it was bright as blue flame… Gandalf thought of most things; and though he could not do everything, he could do a great deal for friends in a tight corner." (p. 76)

When Dr. Boaz cut to the tumor; it came out immediately:

"…Smaug shot spouting into the air...A vast steam leaped up, white in the sudden dark under the moon. There was a hiss, a gushing whirl, and then silence. And that was the end of Smaug…" (p. 262)

In The Hobbit, the death of Smaug was not the end of the story, and the resection of the tumor was not the end of Ben’s tumor either. Bilbo and the dwarves returned to another fight with the trolls:

"So began a battle that none had expected" (p.292).

Ben needed a shunt to drain the fluid from his brain and he needed proton radiation to ensure that his tumor would not return. This was better than shooting radiation into his whole brain, which would have been the only alternative treatment.

"It was a long and cheerless road, but…it seemed safer than the other dreadful pathways…" (p. 305).

Blake, I’m sure you felt like Bilbo did, when he answered Gollum’s riddles in the dark and won his ring:

"It seemed that the ring he had was a magic ring: it made you invisible!” (p.96).

Please know that Mommy and Daddy could see you even if we had to pay so much attention to Ben. Please know that Ben is okay; his dragon is gone.

Dear Riley Donors,

If Riley Hospital for Children was a book you’d see that:

"When the tale of their journeys was told, there were other tales, and yet more tales, tales of long ago, and tales of new things, and tales of no time at all…" (p.310).

The money you give will not create happy endings in every case; pediatric diseases are tough monsters to fight. But your gifts can create happy chapters. When the lives of children are threatened by cancer, or accidents, or genetic disorders, the family has to watch as the staff at Riley takes them on a long journey which get uncomfortably close a dark center.

Your money helps those children get there and back again.

Click here to celebrate the New Year by making a gift of hope to Riley.

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Chris Edwards, Ed. D.

Chris Edwards, Ed.D, teaches AP World History teacher at Fishers High School, and is the author of several books including "Teaching Genius: Redefining Education with Lessons from Science and Philosophy." Chris donates the royalties from "Teaching Genius" to Riley Children's Foundation in support of pediatric cancer research at Riley Hospital. Chris and his wife Beth live in New Palestine are the parents of two boys, Blake, and Ben, who is doing well after being treated at Riley for a cancerous brain tumor.


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