The Little Fighter Who Inspired Us All

Published on June 13, 2011

When three-year-old TJ Garcia of Bakersfield started stumbling and losing his balance, his parents, Theo and Desiree, initially chalked it up to clumsiness. But then TJ started vomiting, and he couldn’t stop. Theo and Desiree rushed him to the emergency room where doctors were confident that TJ jad simply caught a stomach bug. If only he had been so lucky. A few days and several tests later, Theo and Desiree learned TJ had a rare brain tumor that was partially wrapped around his brain stem. “We were floored,” said Theo. “Our world was turned upside down and backwards. It was the worst.”
TJ underwent a 10-hour surgery at UCSF Children’s Hospital where surgeons removed “98.99%” of the tumor. The tumor was mostly gone, but TJ’s speech and physical abilities were completely gone. A result of the surgery, TJ lost his ability to talk and move. “You can’t prepare a parent for this –to see your once-healthy three-year-old lying in a bed helpless,” said Theo. While TJ started chemotheraphy and radiation, Theo and Desiree settled into their new home–Family House. For an entire year, while TJ was in and out of the hospital, the Garcias called Family House their home. It was one thing to have a home away from home, but the emotional support they received from Family House was unexpected. “The people here are amazing,” said Desiree. “When I need to talk, they listen. When my husbandneeds to talk, they listen. They’re just amazing.”
And speaking of amazing, back to TJ. He has certainly beat the odds–statistics show kids his age have a less than 10% chance of survival. But it hasn’t been easy. TJ almost lost his battle three times (the Garcia’s “little fighter” continues to “surprise us all,” said Desiree), he still hasn’t regained his speech, and that little piece of tumor still lingers. But thr good news–he’s slowly walking. And so finally, doctors said it was time for TJ to go home…a moment that was bittersweet for Desiree. “As much as we hate being here, for obvious reasons, it’s been a blessing,” she said. “Family House gave us a place to go and be together as a family. I just love it here. It’s more of a home to us than what we’re foing home to.”