Trips to the hospital can become a routine for parents with a sick child.
That can mean driving hours to Primary Children’s Medical Center in Salt Lake City for Eastern Idahoans.
A Rexburg family is going in for surgery number five, for their 5-year-old son.
“Maybe I can bring some toys,” said Ellis Hale.
Ellis spent an afternoon in April packing his favorites. Not for a sleepover or camp, but for surgery.
“We're really ready for Ellis to feel better,” said Ellis’ mom, Jen Parkinson.
Ellis has Hirschsprung’s disease; his intestines do not work the way they are supposed to.
“As we go into the surgery this time, we don't know what we'll find,” said Parkinson.
Ellis is getting a colostomy bag, again.
And the road to the operating room is a familiar one, 240 miles away.
“It would be great if it was really close,” said Parkinson. “But we’re lucky it’s not 10 hours away."
Twenty-four hours before surgery, Ellis picks chicken as his last meal.
A few toys transforms his hospital room into a playroom. A couch near the window makes it a hotel room for mom and dad.
This time, it’s an eight day stay.
“The first time we had surgery it was the fear of the unknown,” said Parkinson. “And this time it's not the fear of the known; it’s the anxiety of knowing what he'll look like post surgery it's hard to see it.”
Parkinson sneaks one last kiss as Ellis heads into surgery. She leans in and whispers she loves him.
“Before Ellis went into surgery, I had a bit of anxiety,” said Parkinson. “I turned to my husband and said, I kind of pushed for this, what if it's not the right thing?”
Ellis was in surgery for three hours.
“When (the doctor) came in right after surgery and said Ellis was really sick, I realized it was the right thing,” said Parkinson. “I felt really relieved.”
Five days later, chicken is once again Ellis’ choice meal. This time, his first since surgery.
Six weeks later, we met up with Ellis again, back in Rexburg.
“Now, just watching him turn back into my son and a happy, busy, 5-year-old, it makes me realize it was the right thing to do,” said Parkinson.
Ellis’ memories from his time at Primary Children’s aren’t needles or medicine. Instead, he’ll tell you about making rockets or slime.
But things are a little different, marked by the bag on his stomach.
“It's been hard on him,” said Parkinson. “In the beginning, when the kids didn't know (what the bag was) and said ‘what is that?’ As they were confused, it was embarrassing for Ellis. I didn’t want him to feel embarrassed. When I was explaining to the kids they said, ‘Ew, that's gross.’ And I said, ‘It's not gross, it's just different.’”
Ellis is happy. He’s healthier. He’s strong. No doubt, this is something that runs in the family.
“You just do it,” said Parkinson. “You find the strength inside of you, as a mom. You just do what you have to do to take care of your children.”
Ellis will be back at Primary Children’s in six months to decide what will be next. He will need surgery again, but doctors are hoping to save his colon so one day he can live bag-free.
Parkinson says they wouldn’t be where they are today without amazing friends, family, and neighbors.
Eastern Idahoans have a chance to help Eastern Idaho families, just like Ellis’.
The Primary Children’s telethon is coming up on June 2, on Channel 3 Eyewitness News.