April 10, 2014

‘Harlan the Hero’ battles rare brain tumor

Harlan Sullins is a 3-year-old boy in Catawba who has been fighting cancer for more than a year. A local car club is holding a show to help raise money for his medical costs.

In his short life of just three years, Harlan Sullins has had his head cut open, endured radiation treatments and had poison injected in his veins.

Harlan has been poked and prodded and stuck with so many needles, his father, Jonathan Sullins, said he doesn’t even know what life is like without hospital visits and medication.

Harlan and his parents live in the southeastern York County community of Catawba. Their days have been consumed by Harlan’s fight with cancer, and there’s no end in sight.

As 2012 drew to a close, Harlan’s parents started to notice something was “off,” with their little boy, said Jonathan. In February 2013, they learned their son had a brain tumor, an ependymoma, a rare tumor that’s diagnosed fewer than 200 times a year.

In the past 14 months, Harlan has endured surgery to remove a plum-sized tumor, radiation to combat the ependymoma’s growth and chemotherapy. And when that was all over, another scan revealed more tumors and the cycle began again, this time without the chemotherapy, because that had proven useless, said Jonathan.

Altogether, Harlan has had two major brain surgeries, 66 treatments of proton beam radiation at the Indiana University Proton Beam Center and four cycles of chemotherapy, said his mother, Jacki Sullins. The 3-year-old has been sedated 86 times.

He lost the ability to walk, he lost the ability to speak as well as he used to, and he gets depressed at times, said Jonathan.

“It kills you to see your child like that,” he said of his son, who looks with envy at other children who can run and jump and play the way he can’t. “I couldn’t do what he’s doing.”

“Harlan the Hero” is the name that’s been given to him by friends and family. And Jonathan says he truly is a hero, who does his best to act like a normal kid.

Each morning, Jonathan said, before he leaves for work in the National Guard, he has to do the “do everything” with Harlan. That includes a high-five, a handshake, blowing a kiss, giving a hug and a regular kiss. And it’s moments like this that make Jonathan wish that other parents would appreciate what they have with their own children.

“If your child asks you to go walking, throw a ball or just sit on the floor and play, do it,” he said. “You never know what you have until you can’t do it.”

A few months ago, the Queen City Model A Club heard about Harlan and members were touched by his story, said club president Jim Townsend. The Model A Club joined a list of community organizations that have sponsored fundraisers to help the Sullins family pay for Harlan’s medical care.

On Saturday, the Model A Club is sponsoring a car show and will include rides in a Model A in exchange for donations for the family, Townsend said.

This event is extra special for the Sullins family because Harlan “loves anything that rolls,” Jonathan said.

Because he can’t walk, Harlan takes rides in his little wagon, an activity he refers to as “cruising for chicks,” his dad said.

Right now, Harlan is at home, recovering from the latest round of radiation therapy. He has his good days and he has his bad days, Jonathan said. This Saturday, they hope, will be a good day, and Harlan will be feeling up to coming out to the show to see the cars and all the people who care so much about him.

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