Libertyville boy with cancer gets a parade
Firefighters, police support Libertyville boy afflicted with rare form of brain cancer
Fourth Avenue in Libertyville was awash with emergency equipment Monday evening, but it wasn't a fire that brought the responders.
Firefighters and police officers from 13 jurisdictions were on a special call, a grand show of support for a 4-year-old boy who faces a long and difficult journey.
Pulsing lights illuminated a crowd of supporters but shone most brightly on the face of Connor Johnson, who suffers from an extremely aggressive and rare form of brain cancer.
Today he leaves for four to five months more of treatment at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, and well-wishers mobilized to give him a boost.
"I wanted to do something before he undergoes all this treatment to tell him we're supporting him," said Jen Dosch, a Round Lake resident and dispatcher for the Countryside Fire Protection District, who coordinated the event.
Cradled by his dad, Mike, Connor watched with scores of onlookers, many toting their own little ones, as a parade of big trucks approached, sirens wailing and horns blasting.
"Fire trucks," proclaimed the little boy whose situation has touched a lot of hearts in the community.
When parked, the assembled entourage stretched more than a block.
Dressed in custom made "turnout gear," the same worn by firefighters, Connor accepted gifts (lots of hats), well wishes, high fives and hugs from emergency crew members.
"It has been such an outpouring -- it gives me goose bumps," said Mike Johnson's aunt, Tricia Proctor, just before the grand entrance.
As an exclamation point, "Chief" Connor, who loves toy trucks, especially anything having to do with fire equipment, got to ride around the neighborhood in his hometown rig.
Dosch, a wish granter for the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Illinois, met Connor in early February. As her husband is a firefighter for the Lincolnshire-Riverwoods Fire Protection District, she figured a certain type of ice-breaking gift would be in order.
"We brought him toy fire trucks, and he was ecstatic," Dosch said.
Because Connor would be unavailable for a period of time, Dosch wanted to arrange a "wish enhancement" -- not his full-blown wish of wanting to go to Disney World with his family to see Mickey Mouse -- but something to keep his hopes up in the interim.
"If he liked that," she said of the toy trucks, "he must really like real ones."
Neighboring jurisdictions jumped on board.
"It's like a snowball effect with the fire departments," Dosch said.
The Lincolnshire-Riverwoods district bought Connor custom-made turnout gear -- the boots, pants, helmet and coat used by firefighters. The gear, with his name on the back, was delivered Friday.
He's been wearing it around the house since, said Connor's mom, Laurie.
"They ordered it just for him," she said.
Connor turned 4 in October, and the headaches began in early November, she explained. Within days of the initial exam, doctors removed a malignant tumor the size of a baseball that had cracked his skull in three places, she said. He has a form of cancer that occurs in fewer than 1 percent of all pediatric brain cancer patients.
Connor subsequently underwent six weeks of radiation ending in late January. Doctors found the cancer had spread to his spine and gave him a 20 percent to 30 percent chance of surviving two years.
"It's really, really rare so they don't really know," Laurie Johnson said. "Ten years ago, they wouldn't have given him a chance. It's just a number."
She said she is going public with Connor's situation to raise awareness for pediatric cancer.
His treatment will include high-dose chemotherapy and a procedure using his own stem cells. So far, he has been doing well and is in good spirits.
"His personality is fine," Laurie Johnson said. "He lost all his hair, but that's about it. The good thing about his age is he doesn't know what this means."