By Kaytrina Curtis/Zach RehnstromOctober 19, 2016
Seated on a bench in an outdoor breezeway, Capt. Larissa Parsek, a physician assistant at the Fort Stewart Hawks Troop Medical Home, U. S. Army Medical Department Activity, listens intently to her pre-kindergarten 5-year-old son Lukas' laughter as it permeates from the speakers of her lap top. A small USB hard drive holds the final images of her young son's life, and Parsek is ready to share.
Lukas was a vibrant child who had similar interests as children his age. He loved trains, animals and construction equipment, however, unlike most children his age; Lukas would only be able to entertain his child-like sense of wonder for a short period of time.
On Oct. 12, 2015, Lukas was diagnosed with Neuroblastoma, a form of aggressive cancer most commonly found in children five-years-old or younger.
Parsek opens another small media window and watches as her son plays with the wheels of a toy truck. She stares at the screen as her son's words linger in her memory.
When Parsek and her husband Tony told Lukas he was going to die, Lukas asked a most difficult question.
"He asked if we would go with him," Parsek tearfully explained.
When Lukas was first diagnosed he had so much fluid in his lungs doctors said the amount was more than most adults could handle, which forced Lukas to spend a long time in the pediatric ICU at a children's hospital in Savannah, Georgia.
The cancer started from his right adrenal gland and spread out to his lungs, liver, spine, skull, and even manifested on his shoulder and hip bones.
"We explained cancer as all these monsters that are inside his body," Parsek said, "and he's got this really big monster with all of these baby monsters and they're trying to get bigger and they're trying to eat his body, and the medicine is going to make them shrink. That's how we explained it so that he wouldn't be as scared about going back to the hospital … he didn't like going there."
Parsek stares at the reflective screen of her lap top again, and opens another video of her son. She remembers all of the cooking demonstrations her "chef in training" helped her with. One lesson in particular came to mind, where the two of them prepared dough for a homemade pizza.
Parsek listens to her son's enthusiasm as he rolls out the dough. As tears moved silently down her cheeks, Parsek said her unit's support allowed her to be able to capture the priceless last memories of Lukas.
"That's precious, and they let me spend that time with Lukas … and I am so grateful for that," Parsek quietly said.
Lt. Col. Matthew Griffith, Winn Army Community Hospital chief medical officer stated the importance of allowing Parsek to have time with her son.
"To have her to be able to stay home to be able to do that was important," Griffith said. "But more important in my mind is being there for the memories. This past year has been incredibly tough obviously, and she might never heal from it, but at least she'll have those memories of being with him."
After being diagnosed with Neuroblastoma, Parsek and her husband spent their last days together providing Lukas with the ability to do things that some kids may just dream about.
Lukas was able to have a helicopter flyover tour. He manned the controls of different construction vehicles during a tour of a construction site in Pooler, Georgia. He visited a local television weather station, and through the Make-a-Wish Foundation, Lukas had a chance to meet Kyle Bush and the crew of the M&M car.
"He loved spending time with Kyle Bush's engineer," Parsek said. "He [Bush] taught Lukas so much about the different tools and you could just see that his eyes were just sparkling and he came to life."
To other parents who are going through a similar diagnosis with their children, Parsek explained the importance of providing lasting memories for them.
"Every week we wanted to do at least one thing that was special and memorable," Parsek said. "And you have to do that because those are memories that you get to carry if the child doesn't make it."
Ten months after his diagnosis, Lukas passed away at the Cancer Center in Manhattan, New York, but Parsek is hopeful this story will bring awareness to neuroblastoma, and hopefully one day, a cure.