Ailing boy's family has high-flying birthday bash at Hagerstown Regional Airport

June 28, 2008|By JOSH SHAW

HAGERSTOWN -- All Sabrina Gibson wanted was to throw her two sons a special birthday party.

What she got was a day she never will forget.

Last September, Gibson's son, Aedan, who was 8 years old at the time, was in the emergency room for the fifth time complaining of a headache and swelling joints. A blood test finally revealed the cause of all of the pain -- Aedan had leukemia.

With youngest son Conner's 4th birthday in May and Aedan's 9th birthday approaching in June, Gibson thought it would be nice if they could see an airplane from up close, and on a whim, she e-mailed Greg Larsen at Hagerstown Regional Airport.

"All I was asking for was to let them see an airplane up close because they are really into military cars and airplanes," she said. "The next thing I know, there is a big party. It has blown me away."


Larsen and his staff, with the help of local companies and departments, put together the ultimate birthday party for Aedan and Conner on Saturday, complete with games, cake and an airplane ride.

"We get lots of requests for things, but never like this," said Larsen, the business development manager at the airport. "There was something different about the e-mail's tone. She was looking for some help and her story touched all of us profoundly. We talked about it as a staff and decided that this was something we could and should do."

Aedan and the rest of his friends got to sit in a helicopter, an Army jeep, a firetruck and an airplane. Aedan, Conner and their father, Steve Gibson, also went on a 20-minute discovery plane ride over Hagerstown, where Aedan got to fly the plane.

"I like to pretend I'm driving planes," Aedan said. "It was fun."

Aedan met a deputy from the Washington County Sheriff's Department who supplied the children with goodie bags, and also met Washington County Commissioner John F. Barr as all of his friends and family looked on.

Sabrina Gibson said they could not have gotten through the past year without the support of their friends and family.

Aedan was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and was considered high-risk because the counts of his leukemia cells were so high, Sabrina Gibson said. Doctors said the survival rate was 85 percent, but that the chance of relapse within five years is high.

The first trip to the hospital in September lasted 13 days and Aedan had a broviac catheter, used for receiving blood transfusions and medicines, implanted. He recently had the catheter removed, but will have to continue a chemotherapy treatment plan for another 2 1/2 years.

Aedan takes between six and 18 pills a day and had to miss almost the whole school year last year. The plan is for him to return to school as a fourth-grader this fall.

"He is taking it far better than I ever could," Sabrina Gibson said. "From September until now, he has really matured. He is very much a kid, but he is very grown up and understands things most kids his age can't."

Steve Gibson echoed those words.

"He has blossomed from being very much a child to being very mature," Steve Gibson said. "He is still youthful and loves to play and he has kept his spirits high. Conner has had to endure a lot to not being able to see his brother and going to the hospital all the time. This party is fantastic. It is every kid's dream and it is very special."

Larsen said it was the least he and his staff could do to give Aedan and Conner a special day.

"We can't do this every weekend, but we should be prepared to do this once a year for someone who deserves it," he said. "We hope this has been memorable and fun for them."

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