Harrison Ford: the toddler, the hero

By J. Basil Dannebohm

Actor Harrison Ford has starred in a variety of roles wherein he demonstrates heroism and bravery. As Han Solo he fought against the Galactic Empire. As Indiana Jones he was faced with all sorts of danger. Ford even portrayed the President of the United States and single-handedly saved Air Force One.

But this isn’t a story about an actor portraying heroism and bravery.

Meet Harrison Ford. No, not the actor, the child. Harrison is not your average child – he’s just as heroic as the characters portrayed by actor Harrison Ford. Dare I say even more heroic?

Harrison Scott Ford was born on November 29, 2011 to Dan and Melissa Ford of Topeka, Kansas. He was a healthy, full-term baby weighing 8 pounds. Now 14 months old, Harrison has the biggest brown eyes you’ll ever see and goes by several nicknames including: Hans Solo, Indy, Indiana Jones, and Hank the Tank. His hobbies include riding around in the red wagon he received last Halloween, playing with his puppies, dancing with his toothbrush and eating hot dogs and Fruit Loops. Who doesn’t love dancing with toothbrushes and eating hot dogs?

For Melissa, Harrison was too good to be true.

There were times when she would think to herself that the worst thing that could happen to her would be for Harrison to have cancer. But that’s the sort of thing most parents tell themselves “rarely happens; surely it won’t happen to our baby”.

Then came Harrison’s 1-year well check.

Dan and Melissa drove to the pediatrician’s office expecting a clean bill of health. Instead they were told the unthinkable – Harrison had an enlarged liver and could have a tumor. Extensive CT scans were immediately ordered for the next day. At that moment, Dan and Melissa’s world came crashing down around them, leaving them in the center of the worst nightmare.

The next day Dan and Melissa spent what seemed like an eternity in the waiting room; when Harrison’s doctor returned, accompanied by a group of other doctors, he quickly handed them a box of Kleenex. Instinctively, as any mother would do, Melissa withdrew a Kleenex and began to wipe Harrison’s nose, but suddenly realized that the Kleenex were intended for her and for her husband, not for Harrison. It was at that moment she knew that she and Dan were about to receive some very devastating, perhaps life-changing news.

As her heart began to sink the doctor revealed the news – suspicions were correct – little Harrison had a 10-centimeter tumor on his liver. Dan held Harrison in front of his face, trying to hide his tears. Melissa, as any mother would, began to bawl.

How could such a terrible thing happen to an innocent baby?

A biopsy confirmed that Harrison has a hepatoblastoma, a type of cancer most commonly found in children under 3 years old. Because of its close proximity to major blood vessels, it could not be removed without first shrinking; if the blood vessels were damaged during surgery young Harrison could lose massive amounts of blood.

The only way to shrink a hepatoblastoma is with chemotherapy; and brave little Harrison just finished his second cycle. His family, friends and community have been praying frantically that his tumor will shrink enough after this second cycle so that it can be safely removed.

Since starting chemo, Harrison, a child far too small to ride a roller coaster, has spent every waking moment on the most frighening roller coaster ride imagineable.

Harrison’s chemotherapy regimen consists of four drugs: 5-fluorouracil, doxorubicin, cisplatin, and vincristine. Those who are acquainted with medicine or, God forbid, have experienced cancer in some fashion or another, know these are drugs that most adults would be scared of. But little Harrison Ford has proven that he is braver than any of the heroes his namesake has portrayed.

Shortly after he began the chemo Harrison changed drastically-he became “zombie-like”, rarely smiling or laughing, and refusing to eat. Imagine being a parent and seeing your son go from being a bouncy, happy, playful baby to a suffering toddler. Since then, the superhero in Harrison has begun to surface and he is putting up a good fight. He now has both good and bad days – some days he fights hard and that smile shines right through. For Dan and Melissa these moments are priceless. They cherish them more than anything else.

And then there are the darker moments – the ones Dan and Melissa wish never existed. Often and without warning, Harrison must be rushed to the hospital for a fever. The chemo destroys his immune system; even the most seemingly “benign” virus such as the common cold be deadly to Harrison. Every night Dan and Melissa must give Harrison a shot to help him re-grow his immune cells; as any parent knows, most children scream at the mere thought of receiving a shot.

No toddler should be deprived of a playground, but because of his weakened immune system Harrison very rarely goes out in public. Every time Harrison looks out the window and sees another toddler or child playing he begins to cry; this little boy knows that something is wrong, and wants so badly just to be a child again. As if not being able to play with the other children was not agony enough, he is forced to remain isolated from a number of his family members due to the risk that he might contract a virus.

Since the diagnosis (only a few months ago, I might add), Melissa has left her job. Harrison needs his parents during these very fragile moments. It is impossible for Dan and Melissa to predict when and for how long Melissa will need to stay at the hospital by her ailing child’s side. But like their precious son, these young parents have remained incredibly strong through all of this. They trudge through the difficult times, the hospital stays and the tears. They cling to and cherish each and every happy moment, and pray for strength, knowing that God has a plan for their little boy. They are hopeful that Harrison will continue to follow in his namesake’s footsteps and emerge a hero.

Young Harrison Ford’s story is one of heroism and bravery that I’m certain would move even the actor Harrison Ford to tears.

While Harrison’s fight is far from over, today I’m pleased to report some news that so many have been waiting to hear. This morning, Dan and Melissa learned that a prayer has been answered. Harrison’s tumor is responding well. It has shrunk almost half in size with 2 cycles of chemo – a bright moment, a critically joyful moment, a moment that brings hope.

And to the actor Harrison Ford … this toddler has given you a run for your money! You might want to pay little Harrison Ford a visit … bring along an Indiana Jones hat, he’s earned it.