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Fulfilling a dream: Dr. Joseph's story

September 09, 2011

If you ask any of the oncology nurses here at Arnold Palmer Hospital who their favorite doctor is, they will all have the same answer. It is Dr. Joseph. To the untrained eye, Dr. Joseph may not actually look like a doctor at all. He may look strikingly similar to an 8-year-old who is suffering from leukemia. But don’t tell him that.

Six years ago at the age of 2, Joseph was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). He stopped eating, walking and playing. He screamed in pain day and night as his mother took him to doctor after doctor searching for an answer. After he was diagnosed, he came here to Arnold Palmer Hospital for treatment.

When they first arrived, both mother and son were struggling. He was very ill, and she had all but lost hope in doctors and hospitals. After receiving chemotherapy, Joseph began feeling better. He took his first steps again. He started playing again. His mother found, for the first time in her journey, nurses and doctors who would answer her questions honestly.

Since that time, Joseph has spent more time inside the walls of this hospital than any nurse, physician or medical resident. The hospital has become his playground, classroom, church and home. It is where he has learned about life, death, love and loss. It is also where he has learned to dream.

Joseph dreams of becoming a doctor. As his mother explains it, he knows that each time he comes to the hospital feeling badly, his doctors help him feel better. He wants that for other children. He wants to be a doctor so he can help them, too.

However, if you met Joseph you would know that he isn’t just dreaming; he is living his dream every day. His mother has watched as the hospital staff worked to make Joseph’s dream a reality. She says, “They didn’t just teach him to dream, they have worked hard to fulfill his dream.”

When he introduces himself as “Dr. Joseph” it might give you a clue. When he kindly yet authoritatively demands that a medical resident get out of his seat, you might figure it out. When he begins writing prescriptions and giving instructions to the nursing staff, and certainly when he hands you his business card, you might get a sense that this is not your average 8-year-old.

He wears a white lab coat with an embroidered hospital logo as he confers with his colleagues, Dr. Eslin and Dr. Giusti. He reassures patients, young children and teenagers, with his real-life knowledge of procedures and treatments. He seems to have channeled the intricate mix of confidence, compassion and charisma that makes a great doctor.

Joseph’s mother will tell you that he knows how to be an excellent doctor because he has been cared for by excellent doctors. They are his heroes. Within the hospital, Joseph feels safe and cared for. He knows each staff member by name: nurses, custodial staff, food service workers. This is the family he knows in the home he has grown up in.

This family has walked with Joseph through a very long and difficult journey, and this family stands beside him now as his future is uncertain. As Joseph celebrated his eighth birthday in his hospital bed, his hospital family celebrated with him, knowing it may be his last.

His mother characterizes his journey this way:

They made his life abundant. It wasn’t just a sick child’s life who was there to be to home, home to hospital. Yeah, that’s part of the deal. But in the process, he lived his dream.”

An abundant life. Thank you, Dr. Joseph, for inspiring all of us to live an abundant life.


*In the time since this story was written, Dr. Joseph has passed away. We are deeply saddened by the loss of this precious little boy. He touched all of our lives in unspeakable ways. He will be dearly missed, but his spirit lives on in the hearts of everyone he encountered here at Arnold Palmer Hospital. Thank you, Dr. Joseph, for loving us and teaching us to love. We will miss you.