WHEN LIFE IS AN UPHILL BATTLE



Finding themselves with a day of no medical appointments, the Southard family visited JJ’s favorite place, the Memphis Zoo.

Finding themselves with a day of no medical appointments, the Southard family visited JJ’s favorite place, the Memphis Zoo.

The family of a Burke County teenager needs assistance obtaining a costly all-terrain wheelchair.

Patty and Steve Southard raise their 16-year-old grandson, JJ James. They officially live about 6 miles south of Waynesboro however, they spend a lot of time at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.

JJ has fought his share of health issues. He was born with cerebral palsy, as a suspected result of suffering a stroke before he was born. He developed brain cancer at the age of four, and has been a regular at St. Jude’s ever since.

“He did well after treatment,” Patty said. “And then about two years ago, we discovered that he had some tumors in his spine.”

Due to the malignant tumors, he began to lose use of his legs.

“He also has a large one in his pelvis,” Patty said.

During the six years, after treatment for the brain can- cer, his visits gradually decreased from every three months to once-a-year. However, in March he was admitted again. Doctors recently performed two major surgeries on his spine. He is scheduled for two rounds of chemotherapy. If the chemotherapy seems to be working, doctors will continue with the procedure. If not, then JJ is looking at radiation treatment.

JJ James in St. Jude Children’s Hospital April 29.

JJ James in St. Jude Children’s Hospital April 29.

“The cancer he has is very rare,” Patty said. “Especially because it has mutated in his spine. The tumors he has are normally resistant to chemo but they have a new drug that they are trying in addition that effectively turbo charges the chemotherapy.” St. Jude does not charge their patients for the treatment they receive. The hospital also offers three housing options for patients’ families. Currently Patty and Steve stay at the Ronald McDonald House. The couple expect to stay in Memphis this time for about six months.

“That has been an unbelievable blessing,” Patty said. “We have been a St. Jude family for 12 years… and we have never gotten a bill.”

As fate would have it, Steve announced his retirement from Plant Vogtle about two weeks before JJ’s latest diagnosis. This allowed him to travel to Memphis as well. Retired MRI/ CT Scan technician Patty has stayed at home with JJ since his first diagnosis of brain cancer. They have no GoFundMe account set up. Patty says they are blessed to be able to focus on JJ without the burden of worrying about hospital bills, lodging and food. However, they may need assistance once JJ is released.

“He is wheelchair bound now,” Patty said. “He loves to hunt and fish and he can’t get around outside. He needs an all- terrain wheelchair. We are looking at trying to figure out a way to get him that so he can still be able to enjoy the outdoors. Wheelchairs, grass and mud just don’t work out too well.”

Patty estimated the cost of an all-terrain wheelchair to be around $15,000. Anyone willing to help the family in obtaining an all-terrain wheelchair should contact thetruecitizen. shellie@gmail.com for more information.

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