Anticipation is a familiar concept. It takes place in small forms, like hoping the red light turns green soon, waiting for a small injury to bruise over, or counting down the minutes until you’re off the clock for the weekend. There are also big, demanding moments of anticipation, like getting engagement photos for your wedding day, picking out clothes for your unborn baby, or waiting to receive your college diploma in the mail.
Sam would live a life of anticipation, except there weren’t any small doses of it. All by the age of 6, Sam would await a liver transplant, the birth of his baby sister and the granting of his one-true wish: a puppy.
The moment Sam was born on August 13, 2010, he appeared to be a happy and healthy baby boy. It wasn’t until a few months later at a routine wellness visit that Sam’s parents, Josiah and Darien, would receive the unexpected news that in order for their son to survive, he would need a liver transplant. Through their anxious anticipation of finding the perfect match, to their relief, Josiah, was the perfect match. Sam received a liver transplant from his father at just 13-months-old.
By the age of 6, most kids are familiar with knee scrapes or other pain in the form of an occasional boo-boo. But as Sam endured all that he did at such a young age, there was also another thing that set Sam apart. Sam would receive his life-transforming wish to have a puppy to call his own.
Sam’s wish for a puppy originally began in New York, when he and his family were living there a few years ago. Sam stated that his one-true wish was for a puppy, but he would settle for a trip to Walt Disney World if he had to. Due to his father receiving deployment orders to Afghanistan, and the birth of his baby sister, Sam’s wish to have a puppy was forced to be put on hold.
Though moving is a forceful push towards change, one thing remained the same: Sam’s wish. “He was very patient and he never changed his mind,” said Josiah, Sam’s dad. Shortly after his father received transfer orders, which brought him back to the states, Sam’s wish appeared to be within reach.
On October 28, 2016, after much anticipation, Sam’s wish finally came true. Josiah drove to pick up the dark brown labradoodle, weighing only 6 lbs. Sam would name his very own puppy “Kai” after a character from Lego Ninjago.
Sam’s mother, Darien, said that Sam’s love for dogs began when he was very young during Josiah’s first deployment. Sam would attend a program called “Paws for Kids” which was a program designed for families that had a mom or dad deployed overseas. Darien said they would go there once a week to visit the therapy dogs and Sam would take them on walks or give them treats. “That’s what sparked his wish for a puppy,” said Darien.
Though Sam still undergoes blood draws every 3-4 months, clinic visits every 6 months with his liver team, yearly biopsies, and ultrasounds, something significant has changed in his life. Well, a few things. One is that Sam is getting older. Along with growing up comes an increasing awareness of what is happening to you and around you.
When explaining her son’s medical journey and where he is today, Sam’s mother stated, “Sam is getting to the age now where he understands what’s happening. In some ways it makes it a little bit easier because we’re able to explain to him what he has to get done and what he has to go through and why. But at the same time, it makes it a little more difficult because now he knows what’s coming and he does get upset. It’s not just, ‘I’m nervous or scared because I’m going to get a blood draw or poke,’ but, ‘I’m nervous about the whole process and what’s going to happen to me.’”
But along with this awareness and newfound fear is simultaneously the relief and joy his wish continuously brings him. Josiah and Darien shared a recent moment of this impact: “The night before Sam had to go in for a biopsy, a moment when fear and sadness are fresh, he lost it. He was scared and nervous for the whole process of it all. He was sobbing.” Sam’s parents determined Kai’s sleeping arrangements from the beginning, but on this night, they decided to break their own rules. Usually Kai goes into a crate at bedtime upstairs, but other than that, Kai isn’t allowed upstairs. On this night, they let Kai go upstairs into Sam’s room and immediately Sam changed. “He got happy and was laughing and it was exciting because Kai was in his room and he’s never in his room.” From stealing Sam’s socks to letting Sam enjoy his fluffiness, Kai provided comfort, giggles and a distracting relief. “It completely brought him out of his worries and his fears and he was laughing and went to bed happy.”
Darien compared taking care of a puppy to having a newborn. And aside from the family sharing the responsibility that comes along with Kai, like Sam’s siblings helping throw the ball for Kai, Sam’s wish tremendously impacted everyone in the family in more ways than one. “He wasn’t just thinking of himself (when he wished for a puppy) but thinking of the whole family and something that everybody could enjoy,” said Darien.
These days, aside from Tae Kwon Do, gymnastics and playing soccer, Sam loves to draw and paint. At a birthday party, when prompted to do a canvas painting, the result was strikingly familiar.
Josiah and Darien are hoping to get Kai trained as a therapy dog and Sam has already started going to training classes with Kai to learn how to best interact and train him. Josiah and Darien talked about the continuous joy this has brought, through this journey of raising Kai. “It’s not a trip that we took and now it’s over, but he sees Kai every day. The most rewarding part is seeing the joy Sam has, not only when he received Kai, but every day. It’s a continuous joy.”
Of all the things Sam has had to wait to receive, they all have one thing in common. They were all worth the wait.