His parents needed more time to understand what Nate Carter, 13, already knew as he made his way through a treacherous year of diagnoses and treatments; Nate was not simply going to survive, he was going to thrive.
That was the realization which Nate's mother, Bitsy Carter, brought before the Hope Rotary Club here Thursday as she not only celebrated her son's initial victory over Wegener's Disease, but she also reflected upon the remarkable transformation which it brought about in Nate.
“We were lucky enough to have our child come from the brink of death,” Mrs. Carter said.
Beginning in 2012, the rapid progression of the disease, which is rare in juveniles, overwhelmed Nate's body, she said. The symptoms became more acute during a trip to Little Rock to promote the Hope Watermelon Festival.
“It really blew our minds,” she said. “Everybody said there was something going on with Nate, because this just wasn't like him.”
Later, after an horrendous episode in which Nate began to cough up blood, he underwent a grueling six months of diagnoses and chemotherapy treatments at Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock.
“Cancer is not the only disease that can be treated with chemotherapy,” Mrs. Carter said.
Wegener's Disease is an aggressive condition which typically attacks the blood vessels in the body slowly causing them to inflame and burst. In Nate's case, the progression was abnormally rapid. He initially had difficulty breathing as the disease caused him to constantly cough up blood.
“We didn't know what was going on; but, his lungs were the major involvement,” she said. “We found out within a few hours that his kidneys were on the verge of failing, and his liver was going through some crazy enzyme numbers.”
Using every spare moment she could find, Carter began to research the disease as Nate was being treated, and learned that its rapid progression in Nate was extremely rare.
“As of now, Nate is probably the only juvenile diagnosed with Wegener's in the state of Arkansas,” she said. “There are probably 75 to a hundred juveniles in the United States that are diagnosed with this.”
As a result, once Nate was stabilized and his body began to recover, Carter said she realized her son would likely be severely limited by treatments for the rest of his life.
“I had to remember that this is a marathon, not a sprint,” she said.
She said an incident only recently reminded her of that notion when Nate became dehydrated simply because he did not drink enough water.
“So, if you see my child without water in his hand, tell him his mother said to drink more water; for the rest of your life,” Mrs. Carter quipped.
Carter said she was prepared to help Nate understand the limitations which he would face in order to live. What she was not prepared for was Nate's resolution to fight.
Page 2 of 3 - “I remember, several times he would have a chemo treatment, and the next day I'd say, 'I really would like for you to stay home so I can watch you, I can observe you; make sure your stomach isn't hurting, and you're not getting weak,'” she explained. “Time after time, even in front of doctors and nurses, he would say, 'Mom, that's not going to happen,' and 'Mom, why are you worried about that?'”
She said she was amazed to see Nate's resilience at returning to a normal life. But, normal to Nate, also meant going back to participating in sports. And, after falling ill in the school year in which he transferred from private to public education, Mrs. Carter said she and her husband, Anthony, feared that losing sports would be devastating to Nate.
“Nate never let any of that get him down,” she said. “He simply kept on pushing.”
And, that determination appeared to affect his recovery, as Nate's lungs healed to the point that his doctor released him to play football, but with strict equipment protections.
Returning to the sport with the Yerger Junior High School Bobkittens, Nate became the quarterback of the eighth grade team; which lead to his entering an essay in the “Together, We Make Football” contest sponsored by the National Football League.
Carter said she was amazed at the maturity with which her son wrote of his struggle.
“It was beautiful,” she said. “I had never, in a year and a half, heard my child talk openly about what had gone on.”
But, the essay explained everything in such a manner that NFL Films sent a camera crew to Hope to film a segment on Nate as he lead the Bobkittens to a resounding victory over DeQueen.
“The doctors explained how serious this was, and I could see it in my parents' eyes,” Nate wrote. “I was literally fighting for life.
“Even though Wegener's is an incurable disease, I knew I was going to be okay, and I was so relieved,” he wrote. “My Dad and I love football, and we kept asking my rheumatologist, 'Can I play football, yet?' He prepared us that I would probably never be able to play again...
“I kept thinking, 'What if I can play?' and, 'Who says I can't do this,'” Nate wrote. “I lifted weights. I worked out constantly. I ate good all summer long...
“After missing many practices with the team, the coaches were timid, at first, at playing me at quarterback,” he wrote. “But, guess what? After a complete season now, I'm playing quarterback for my team...
“Football has taught me, over the years, several things: To never give up; to hit something head-on; to work with a team to make something happen,” Nate wrote. “It has taught me discipline; to keep a goal; and, to take it one play at a time... I have hit Wegener's head on; not a sissy hit, but a head-on hit. It will not win over me.”
Page 3 of 3 - Nate was named one of 10 finalists from among 5,000 entries on Thanksgiving Day during the halftime NFL promotion of the Green Bay Packers-Detroit Lions game. Five winners will be given a week-long Super Bowl trip.
Now, Carter said, NFL Films will host a party Sunday at 2 p.m. at Tailgater's in downtown Hope to congratulate Nate as one of the 10 finalists... and, possibly make an announcement.