Meet Tristan Gill

As far as anyone could tell, Tristan Gill was a perfectly healthy, active preschooler, enrolled in a pre-K program in his hometown of Rison and signing up for basketball. That all changed in October of 2017 when blood appeared in his urine, causing his mom, Jasmine Wells, to take him to his pediatrician’s office the next day -- the first time Tristan had been seen for anything other than routine wellness checkup and immunizations.

During the examination, the doctor felt a mass on Tristan’s right side, and referred the family to Arkansas Children’s Hospital, where Jasmine learned the diagnosis: Tristan had a form of kidney cancer called a Wilms tumor.

Jasmine, an x-ray technologist was familiar with the term, but never dreamed it would apply to her child. The news sent her reeling.

“Tristan had never even been to the emergency department before then," she says.  "It was a big shock. You go from having this healthy kid to being at the hospital every week, and sometimes twice a week. Everything happened so fast.”

In less than two days, Tristan was in surgery with his kidney removed and a chemo port in place. Weekly treatments began soon after. “Dr. Saccente explained everything perfectly,” says Jasmine, but the three-year-old patient was not sold on having to get “pokies” from strangers--his word for when nurses had to access his port. “It took Tristan a minute to warm up,” remembers his mom. “He doesn’t do well with strangers at all.”

The strangers got even stranger when Tristan woke up from his surgery and saw Batman. It was Halloween, and costumed superheroes were visiting Arkansas Children’s patients. When wide-eyed Tristan asked what the caped crusader was doing in his room, he was told he was getting superpowers from Batman. Jasmine said that the memory made the return visits to the hospital much easier. “Every Thursday, when he had to go get treatment, we’d say ‘we gotta juice up your superpowers so you can be strong like Batman’.”

Jasmine, a single parent, says they could not have made it through Tristan’s treatment without the help of Jennifer, their social worker at ACH.

“I had just closed on a brand new house when he got diagnosed," said Jasmine. "I thought, I’m about to lose everything.” Jennifer was able to connect Jasmine with support to help her with mortgage and utility payments while she had to work drastically reduced hours in order to care for Tristan. Social Work helped her with gas for the weekly trips to Little Rock from Pine Bluff. Jasmine says the assistance meant she could focus on Tristan's’ recovery.

“I don’t think we’d have made it without them,” she says. Jasmine dreams of one day starting a fund in Tristan’s name to help other families like theirs cope with the financial stress of illness.

Tristan underwent weekly treatments for six months. Though he did occasionally run a fever or experience nausea, his mom says that 80 percent of the time he was still the upbeat energetic boy she’d always known. Last fall, Tristan was able to attend pre-K and in December, the Make-A-Wish Foundation sent the family to Disney World. Jasmine is back to work, and life as she says, “is back to normal,” though she will never take it for granted.

“Be grateful for what you have, because it can be taken just like that.”

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