Mother of St. Jude patient speaks on health journey, life after treatment

Published: Mar. 24, 2023 at 4:16 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - To say “Good things come to those who wait,” is an understatement for Kelly Waddell.

She’s the mother of a St. Jude patient and experienced quite a journey in trying to start a family.

“We tried for 3 years to have a child period,” says Waddell.  “We kept meeting disappointment after disappointment and could never get pregnant.”

When she finally did get pregnant, she gave birth to a bright-eyed, adorable, baby boy.

Caleb was everything Kelly Waddell and her husband prayed for.

Life was perfect...until it wasn’t.

“We were told at 13 months of age, he would live to be 5 to 10 years old and that he would end up blind, and deaf, and have mental deficits and that his organs would just start shutting down.”

Caleb’s medical journey started after Kelly took him to see an orthopedic surgeon because when he was born, his feet were turned inward.

She didn’t think much of it. Caleb was treated with serial casting and she assumed that would resolve the issue.

But doctors believed Caleb’s condition was a genetic disorder and what the geneticist said, left Kelly and her husband NUMB.

“I think I’ve seen your son in a book. And I’m like my son is perfect how in the world could you have seen him in a book.”

The next referral was to the skillful, healing hands of a physician who happened to work on Danny Thomas Boulevard.

“There’s a doctor at St. Jude and they started doing transplants and it’s not a cure, but it’s a hope, It’s a chance.”

Hope that’s kept Caleb ALIVE.

“He received his bone marrow transplant at 18 months of age. He’s had surgery after surgery, and not including his back being broken , and reconstructed in his hips, cornea transplant, and carpel tunnel when he was 4 and he’s done all these things.”

And her now all grown up baby boy, is doing life, abundantly.

“His 5 to 10 year life sentence has turned into 22 years and going and he’s doing amazing.”

Driving up to St Jude all those years ago, this then terrified mother says she will never forget the love that swallowed her the moment she walked through the doors.

“Back then”, recalls Waddell, “there was this little lady Ms. Penny that was at the front desk and I loved Ms. Penny. Ms. Penny came from behind the desk and she hugged us and told us, I know you’re scared and I know this is frightening and everything but you’re in the best place you can possibly be and it was like Ms. Penny was the epitome of this hospital because as soon as we came in we felt like we were wrapped in somebody’s arms. It’s like the Disneyworld of hospitals.”

The tug of war on childhood cancer at this magical place, never stops.

And Caleb keeps winning!

From a mother’s love, to grandma’s hugs, to getting spoiled by his baby boss sister.

“She’s like a little mother hen, swearing she’s going to take care of him when she grows up and she’s going to take him everywhere. They are great together.”

Thanks to St Jude, a togetherness these two peas in a pod will share for a lifetime.

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