The Overman family's best holiday gift was to have another Christmas with Jason, they say. They had prepared to say their final goodbyes twice before the bone marrow transplant that has given him new hope.
The Orem 6-year-old was diagnosed last February as having neuroblastoma, a rare childhood cancer affecting the nervous system."The doctors didn't know how fast the cancer would grow," Jane Overman, Jason's mother, said in an exclusive interview with the Deseret News. "We didn't know how long we would have a child, so we hurried and had a family portrait taken. He lost all his hair from the radiation treatments three days after the picture was taken."
Jason's doctors at Primary Children's Medical Center said a bone marrow transplant would provide the boy's best chance of survival. The Overmans' insurance would not pay for the transplant, which was judged "experimental." UCLA Medical Center required a deposit of $150,000 before it would admit Jason.
"It was like a horrible dream," Overman said. "It's really hard to think you might not have your child for lack of an operation. I kept thinking I was going to wake up. But it wasn't a dream. It was real."
But friends and strangers organized dozens of fund-raisers, which brought in $192,000. Jason and his family traveled to UCLA Medical Center in July and the staff began testing Jason in preparation for the extreme chemotherapy and radiation and the marrow transplant.
Then the next blow came.
"The doctor walked in and didn't say anything, but you could see it on his face that something was wrong. The X-rays showed a large mass in Jason's stomach. The doctor said, `A bone marrow transplant will not help your son. You can leave tonight if you want to.' "
Jason's parents spent the next five days planning their son's funeral and deciding how to make his last days pleasant.
"We started to think about all the places he loves. We talked about taking him salmon fishing."
Then Primary Children's Medical Center sent some earlier X-rays showing the mass had not grown for months.
"They concluded it was not cancer. It was just the scar tissue left over from some earlier cancer that had been killed," Overman said.
Jason checked back into the center, but a few weeks later he had another brush with death, his mother said.
"A nurse accidentally administered a lethal dose of a painkiller. Jason is alive because his father was in the room and was able to call for help. There was a code blue alert, and Jason needed one-to-one nurses for the next few days."
The Overmans still have some concerns about Jason's UCLA medical bill.
"They are trying to charge us for the extra care Jason needed because of the overdose. We don't want to sue them. It's kind of hard to say, `Thank you for saving my child, now I'm going to sue you.' But we don't think we should pay for the extra care he needed after their overdose almost killed him."
Vicki Beck, UCLA Medical Center spokeswoman, said the center has representatives to work with any patient who has a billing question, and the hospital is in touch with the Overmans. Beck would not comment on the overdose Overman described.
Jason got his transplant on Aug. 18. Overman said the $192,000 raised for Jason will pay most of his medical bills. The UCLA Medical Center and Jason's doctors want $219,000, but if the emergency charges are deducted, the total will be lower.
"We hope there will be enough money," Overman said. "It will be close. But we will still have some Primary Children's bills to pay, too."
Despite problems at UCLA, Overman said her family is very grateful to the medical center.
"There are very few hospitals that can help children with neuroblastoma," she said. "I think the medical team at UCLA should be recognized as heroes."
Overman is also thankful for the community support and wants everyone to know all the money raised will be applied to Jason's medical bills.
Recent tests on Jason showed no trace of cancer, Overman said, and his immune system has recovered enough that he has been able to fight off a minor infection. He has gained back most of the weight he lost earlier this year. His face is still puffy from his medication, but his hair is starting to grow back.
Jason spends most of his time at home in protective isolation. He does school lessons, rests, watches cartoons and plays with his siblings. He has been sledding several times and wants to learn to ski.
"First he said he wanted to be a doctor, because he knew so much about what they did," Overman said. "He said if he has any children, he would know just how to keep them healthy.
"But he got a telescope for Christmas and he likes to look at the moon and stars. After the year he's been through, it's great to see him reaching for the stars."