I wrote about Isabella Hope Larson last month, and I’m sharing it with you again today because the fundraiser for her is this Saturday.
Isabella is the 15-month-old daughter of Darrin Larson and the late Jane Halme Larson. Jane died when her daughter was 3 months old (the Larsons also have a son), months before it was discovered that Isabella was ill. She started chemo on her first birthday.
Chemo is continuing, although often Isabella’s blood count is too low to permit the weekly treatments.
The fundraiser will be at 5 p.m. Saturday at the Old 77 banquet room. A free will spaghetti dinner will be served from 5-7:30 with a silent auction going on. The silent auction will end in stages starting at 7:30, and with a live auction starting at 8.
Here’s the story:
Resilient toddler creates hope
Sioux Falls girl needs chemotherapy until she’s 2
In July, Isabella Hope Larson celebrated her first birthday with a cupcake and chemotherapy.
The sweet treat lasted only a few minutes before it met the fate of all first birthday cupcakes. The chemo, however, will continue until next July.
You might think that would be enough travail in one child’s short life, but Isabella also survived a risky pregnancy, one that was too dangerous for her twin. She also was only a few weeks old when a hemangioma, a tumor involving a collection of blood vessels, was discovered behind her eye.
"This little girl is a fighter," says her grandmother, Anne Halme of Dell Rapids. "She beat the odds before she got here."
"She’s been taking medicines since she was born," says her father, Darin Larson of Sioux Falls. "She was taking a medicine for high blood pressure that reduced the swelling."
As Larson speaks, his son, Noah, is playing in another room. Isabella, who underwent chemo earlier that day, sleepily rests in Halme’s arms. On the wall behind them hangs a variety of family portraits.
Noah and Isabella's mother, Jane (Halme) Larson, is featured in the photographs, watching over her family even after her death Oct. 12, 2012, at the age of 34.
Before her daughter’s death, however, “she had the best three months of her life because she had her family,” Halme says.
Becoming a wife and mother always was a goal for Jane Larson, who worked with the developmentally disabled while attending school at the University of South Dakota and then in a day care before starting her own.
She was in no hurry, however. Any man she married would have to be a good father, Jane Larson told her mother. She dated Darin Larson for five years before they were married July 28, 2007.
Noah, their first child, arrived about nine months after their wedding, giving Jane Larson’s brother, Paul Halme, ample opportunity to tease his sister about jumping the gun. With that fast conception, it looked as if the Larsons would have no problem expanding their family.
That wasn’t the case. After a delay in a hoped-for second child’s arrival, the Larsons learned that Jane had a congenital abnormality in her uterus that required surgery. It was a miracle, they were told, that Noah had been conceived.
When Jane Larson did become pregnant again, after two miscarriages, she learned she would have twins. Isabella's fraternal twin, however, was miscarried, and it appeared as though the other child was lost, too.
But at the hospital, during an ultrasound, the technician asked Jane Larson if she wanted to look at the screen: “This baby is sucking on a thumb and dancing around,” the technician said.
Slowly, the weeks passed. The Larsons knew the baby could survive if born at 26 weeks and would not face many issues if she waited til 32 weeks. Isabella, however, stayed on her own schedule and was delivered at term.
"She was meant to be here," Halme says.
Her time with her mother was short, however. In mid-October 2012, Jane Larson suffered a brain aneurysm. Surgery was successful, but complications developed. The young woman’s brain began experiencing cerebral vascular spasms. Six times she was rushed into surgery for angiograms; six times she’d recover from the stroke-like effects.
"The last lucid time we had with her, she was reading Darin’s Facebook on his phone, and she said, ‘I had a stroke? I don’t feel like I had a stroke,’" Halme says.
The seventh time, Jane Larson’s brain, untouched by alcohol, drugs or smoking, could not come back. Her family, following her wishes, asked that she be an organ donor, and more than 80 people were helped through the gift of Jane Larson’s tissue, corneas, veins, bones and organs.
Darin Larson began a new life, without his beloved Jane. Noah, who had spent only three nights away from his parents, had to make adjustments to a day care outside his home, and this fall he began school at Sioux Falls Christian.
He remembers well a ritual he and his mother had. She would ask him, “How much do you love me?” and he would reply, “So much.”
He offers the same response now when he is asked how much he loves his baby sister. “So much,” he says, looking up from his play.
What he probably doesn’t know is what she faces.
Isabella's father and family know, as do family friends such as Lori Bangasser. “Family friend” is Jane Larson's term for those who bear no blood connection but feel like they do. Bangasser has taken Isabella to chemo sessions, all the while thinking of her longtime friend.
"Something I do miss is her laugh," Bangasser says. "It wasn’t very often you saw Jane down."
In her absence, her family is maintaining a positive attitude. They have since earlier in the year, when Isabella developed a flat rash on her skin. On a trip to the doctor with Noah, who had the flu, Darin Larson asked that Isabella be examined, too. As more and more doctors were called in, he knew something was wrong.
It was on a visit to a dermatologist that a name was given to Isabella's condition: Langerhans cell histiocytosis. LCH is a rare disease that involves the proliferation of white blood cells.
Bangasser was familiar with the name. A cousin’s child in Madison recently had completed treatment, as had another child in Dell Rapids. It is believed to occur in one in every 200,000 children.
LCH generally attacks the bones first, and that’s true in Isabella's case. The mastoid of the temporal bone, behind her ear, has been eroded by the disease.
While LCH is not a childhood cancer, it’s treated like one with chemotherapy, Halme says. Isabella's treatment plan has her undergoing 12 weekly chemotherapies, followed by chemo every three weeks until her second birthday. Low blood counts mean several of her weekly chemotherapies have had to be delayed.
The treatments leave Isabella tired and needing to sleep more than usual. They also have left her family aware of what other families are going through.
"You realize how blessed you are, every time you go to the (Sanford Children’s Hospital), and you see kids that are sicker than Isabella,” Darin Larson says.
Halme has moved from Dell Rapids to Sioux Falls to help care for her grandchildren. Family, friends and neighbors are offering their support, as is Darin Larson’s employer, Sonifi (formerly LodgeNet).
Bangasser and others are planning a fundraiser for Isabella and her family Oct. 19 in Dell Rapids to help the Larson family with treatment costs. She has known the Halmes since the late 1980s and watched Jane grow, fall in love and begin her family.
"We can’t bring Jane back, and we can’t take everything away, but hopefully we can make everything easier, or at least not worrisome," Bangasser says.