GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Dawson Babiak, 8, is ready to celebrate the first Christmas he can remember when he won’t be sick.
After four years fighting an aggressive form of Leukemia, he took his final chemotherapy earlier this year.
“It was Nov. 17, 2014 when we noticed Dawson was a little sick, lethargic. (Dawson’s mom) saw little red spots all over him,” explained Jason Babiak, Dawson’s dad.
Test results brought news neither of them could believe, and a journey that was more difficult than they could have imagined.
Treatment was immediate. The doctors told his parents Dawson had so many cancer cells in his body they may not have been able to do anything if they had waited a few more days.
“Day in and day out, you see your son gradually lose weight, lose his hair, be nauseous,” the Babiaks said of the challenges of treatment.
An allergic reaction to one of the chemotherapy drugs led to a grand mal seizure and a stroke at one point, which Dawson’s parents say was even scarier than the diagnosis.
Through it all, they relied on Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital and a ton of support from family and friends to get them through. It was one moment that inspired them to do something to give back to the hospital.
Dawson had a significant amount of muscle loss due to his treatment and hadn’t been out of bed in weeks when a child life specialist came in with a package of window markers.
“Who would not want to draw all over the windows and walls when you are a kid? It was the first time he got out of bed in a couple weeks and he started drawing all over the window,” the Babiaks said.
They then decided to start collecting toys to donate to the hospital so other kids may be inspired to get up and keep fighting.
It started with a $300 goal to collect toys, but has grown each year. It has reached the point where they have more than enough to fill an entire bus with thousands of toys
“They saved our son’s life and we can’t thank them enough. So, if doing this epic toy drive once a year helps, then it’s the least we can do,” they explained.
Dawson’s parents are both teachers. His dad is also a National Honor Society advisor at Hopkins High School. They involve the whole community in collecting the toys.
Jason Babiak describes Hopkins as “a small town with a big heart” for how much everyone has come through in supporting them through treatment as well as with their toy drive.
The hospital also created a program for student leaders who help deliver the toys then spend time in the hospital learning about where the toys go and why they are so important.
Kids who have to go in to get endless shots, blood draws or chemotherapy treatments all get prizes afterwards to make the experience a little less scary.
The children’s hospital has a wish list (PDF) for ideas on what patients might enjoy for anyone who would like to donate.
Dawson was declared cancer free this year. He is enjoying life as an active 8-year-old boy, but he and his family don’t plan on stopping their drive anytime soon.
“We asked (Dawson and his big brother, Mason) if this is something they want to continue. They said absolutely. The gift you get from giving is great. But when the gift is this large, it’s absolutely amazing,” their parents said.
Now, the Babiaks and the Hopkins community are feeling the joy of giving a gift that is so much more than a pile of toys.