It's like a club

Written by Teresa Dennard.

but one you don't really want to be in

You never know what twists and turns life is going to bring your way. Travis and DeShana Penner discovered the truth in that statement when their son was 3 ½ years old. Tripp seemed to be sick all the time, more so than the normal coughs and sniffles of a two year old. He also had unexplained bruises on his body. The daycare called and asked DeShana to come get Tripp because he was running a low-grade fever. She took him to a local doctor who ran blood tests, but showed nothing. He suggested she keep Tripp out of daycare for six weeks to let his body recover. “Travis and I both had jobs,” she recalled, “and I couldn’t see either of us telling work that we don’t know what’s wrong with our child, but we can’t come in.” Her motherly instincts kicked in—she knew she needed a second opinion. “I didn’t know any doctors in Longview,” said DeShana, “so I just took the blood test results with me and went to the Diagnostic Clinic, looked at the list of pediatricians and picked Dr. D’Antoni.”

Within ten minutes, the doctor came back and said, “I’m 99% sure your son has leukemia and you need to get to Dallas or Houston immediately.” Travis happened to be working in Daingerfield that day and knew something was up when he looked at his phone and saw that his mother-in-law was calling. She relayed the devastating news. “I can remember the day, the time, the weather, what job I was on, what guys I was working with,” stated Travis. “It’s a day I’ll never forget.” DeShana’s parents were living in Houston, so that’s the direction they decided to go. “We asked if we could wait till tomorrow and they said no. You need to go home, pack and get to Houston now. We ended up getting to the ER at Texas Children’s Hospital at 9:00 that night and they admitted us to the cancer floor.”

From that point, doctors were trying everything possible to get the cancer into remission within a month—lots of steroids, spinal tap procedures, all kinds of IV drugs.  “He looked gray. The treatments killed everything. His immune system was down to zero. His platelets were down to 6 and normal is 3,000-4,000. After the first month, he was able to go to an out-patient basis. “When we look back on everything, it’s like God set it all up,” said DeShana, “My parents had lived in Austin and loved it, but decided to move to Houston to be closer to my mom’s parents. We were able to stay with them while all this was happening. When I had the instinct to take Tripp to the Diagnostic Clinic, it was a Godsend that I picked Dr. D’Antoni. Years later he told us the reason he knew immediately what was wrong with Tripp is because he had leukemia as a child. Of all the doctors we could have gotten, the very one I picked happened to be the one we needed.”

Once Tripp started getting better, the Penners wanted to return home between treatments to give him some normalcy in his life.  “We didn’t get out much because the doctors didn’t want us around a lot of people. Many times we just stayed in the house so we didn’t bring anything home to Tripp. If he ran a fever over 100, we had to immediately go to Houston. We had to make sure he was really well before we could start having people over. It was tough. You take for granted going to church or just going to the grocery store. It starts wearing on you mentally.”

The Penners had no idea that while they were in Houston, their friends back in Carthage were rallying the troops. A special account was set up for donations to help with the mounting expenses and signs could be seen all over town, “Pray for Tripp Penner.” People were praying and it was working. “The outpouring of love and prayers that we got here locally was very humbling. Panola County is a great place to live because people pull together when somebody is in need.”

One of the good things that came out of this experience was getting to go on an all-expense paid trip to DisneyWorld compliments of the Make-a-Wish Foundation. For seven days the Penners were treated like royalty. When they say they take care of everything, they really mean it. Tripp recalls, “We got to go to the front of the line on all the rides and each night a bear would come tuck me in.” Many new friendships were made along the way as well. “In Houston you meet people that have children going through the same thing. It’s like a club there, but one you don’t really want to be in. You can talk to your friends here about what you’re going through, but they don’t really understand,” says DeShana, “The people in Houston know exactly what you’re talking about.” DeShana leaned heavily on Mike and Sarah Isbell during that time because they went through the same experience with their daughter, Macy. “Mike and I were friends growing up,” recalls Travis, “and they literally lived a few houses down from us. It’s strange that we both ended up having a kid with leukemia, and now we’ve reconnected and hang out together. We have common ground with everything we went through.”

Tripp is healthy now, makes good grades in school, plays basketball and soccer and lives the life any normal 11 year old lives. “It seems so long ago. When it first happened, they gave us a six month plan, and we wondered then how we were going to make it through those six months. In a way we’re thankful for everything we went through because it builds character. It makes you stronger. Every night we say prayers, and the last thing is always, ‘Thank you God for healing Tripp’s body.”