Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Josh Haynes – Learning Toughness from an Unlikely Source

By Thomas Gerbasi

He’s been battered, bloodied, outpunched, and occasionally outmatched. But from the super heavyweight division to his current weight class of 170 pounds, one thing you could never say about Josh Haynes is that he isn’t tough. In fact, the 29-year old from Oregon may very well be one of the gutsiest competitors in the sport, pound for pound.

But if you talk to him, he’ll tell you that he’s not even the toughest person in his own home. That honor would go to his five-year old son Thor, who beat back the fiercest opponent anyone could face – cancer.

“It’s amazing when you see a child fighting for his life,” mused Haynes. “It puts tough in perspective. What I do is a joke, honestly.”

I wouldn’t go that far, but for any parent, the possibility of losing a child and being virtually helpless to do anything about it puts everything else in perspective. Suddenly losing a fight or getting cut off in traffic isn’t as important; or at least it’s not worth ruining your day over.

“Sometimes I catch myself doing that and then I have to reevaluate what the hell I’m talking about,” he smiles. “Sometimes folks don’t realize how good their life really is. It’s very easy for us to focus on the bad, and you really don’t know how bad things are until you look over your shoulder and you’re in a position to see what bad really is.”

For Haynes, his wife Jennifer, and daughter Sabrina (now nine – the couple also have another son, two-year old Max), that day arrived when Thor was just 14 months old. A typical baby who passed all his tests and was seemingly fine, Thor began showing signs that something was wrong as he got older.

“He would sit up and after a while he would forget how to sit up,” said Haynes. “He would start sleeping longer and longer every day. My wife and I knew that there was a problem but we didn’t know what was going on, so we were taking him to see doctors and clinicians, and we took him to the ER a couple of times and everybody diagnosed it as something different.”

Whether it was diagnosed as an ear infection, cold, or something basic and treatable, Thor was still not getting better. He began sleeping 18 to 20 hours a day and was unable to crawl or sit up, resorting to rolling around the floor to go from place to place in the family’s living room. Luckily, Haynes was working as a network engineer for a local hospital at the time, and he was able to get one of the doctors to examine him. She immediately sent the family to a specialist, who had Thor at a hospital getting a CT scan within hours.

It was there that the worst possible news was given to Haynes and his wife.

“I’ll never forget the doctor’s name, Dr. Grimm,” said Haynes. “He just came out, looked at my wife and I, and said, ‘your son’s gonna die, and if he lives, he’ll never learn how to tie his shoes, how to eat on his own,’ and basically there’s no hope. My wife immediately broke down; I tried to play the strong card, playing tough and trying to be supportive for her. But it was killing me. I was dying inside and it was actually the first time I had cried since my mom had died around nine, ten months earlier.”

Thor had been born with a brain cancer called Medulla Blastoma, and to save him, surgery was necessary. Haynes called his job to let them know he wasn’t going to be in work and the family drove to Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. Two days later, Thor was in for a 12 hour brain surgery. Haynes and his wife waited and waited with a hospital pager in hand, knowing that if the pager went off before the 12 hour period, the news wasn’t going to be good.

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