March 17, 2016

Ten-year-old Donates Birthday Money to Cancer Institute

March 17, 2016 | Ten years ago, Lennon Tusieseina had just entered the world. Meanwhile, a team of doctors at UAMS was saving his grandfather’s life. Earlier this year, they saved his uncle, too. Lennon wanted to give something back.

Toting a jar one-third his size stuffed with dollar bills, 10-year-old Lennon recently took his birthday money to the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute.  He had asked his friends to give money to donate instead of gifts.

It just seemed like the right thing to do. “I wanted to be a part of helping people,” he said. “I wanted to see my uncle standing up again.”

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The Tusieseina and Foster families don UAMS hats as they celebrate a donation to the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute by 10-year-old Lennon Tusieseina (front center). Also shown are (front row from left): Linsay Tusieseina, Ryder Tusieseina and Rebecca Foster and (back row) Siona Tusieseina, Foster Tusieseina and John Foster.

His uncle, Samuel “Tommy” Braswell, is still recovering at home. But the day was definitely a family affair, with grandparents John and Rebecca Foster, parents Linsay and Siona Tusieseina, and brothers Foster, 11, and Ryder, 7, all present and accounted for.

Peter Emanuel, M.D., and Mauricio Moreno, M.D., were there to welcome them. While the adults exchanged hugs and pleasantries, the three brothers amused themselves with a game of hide-and-seek around the Cancer Institute’s main lobby.

Moreno, a head and neck surgeon in the UAMS Department of Otolaryngology, had performed a 10-hour surgery on Braswell just two months earlier. He remembers the family and their dedication well, and was impressed by Lennon’s generosity.

“I was asking how this started, and basically it was his own initiative,” he said. “It’s pretty humbling to some degree to see a 10-year-old come up with that. Very impressive.”

Braswell was diagnosed with oral cavity cancer late last year.

“It all happened really quick,” said Linsay Tusieseina. “His throat was hurting for about a month, and then he went to the doctor. They found it pretty early.”

Because the cancer was close to his jawbone, it needed to be removed, along with a few of his teeth.  His jawbone was replaced with a titanium rod. A piece of an artery, veins and tissue from Braswell’s forearm were used to cover the area where the cancer was removed.

“And he got stitches,” said Lennon, who was sporting three small stitches of his own near his left eye. A pick-up basketball game had ended when he collided with a chain-link fence.

Now recovering at home, Braswell is cancer-free. “All the scans are clear and good,” said Tusieseina. “We were very thankful that Dr. Moreno was able to get it all so that no chemo or radiation was necessary.”

Lennon’s grandfather, John Foster, was diagnosed in 2006 with tongue cancer. His wife, Rebecca Foster, is a nurse at UAMS and was working in the Cancer Institute at the time.

“I was shaving and felt a little lump, but I didn’t really think anything about it,” he said. “It never went away, so I asked my wife about it. She said I needed to go to the doctor.”

He had a biopsy right after Labor Day weekend and was treated with radiation and chemo. Brendan C. Stack Jr., M.D., Anne Marie Maddox, M.D. and José A. Peñagarícano, M.D., were his doctors. Foster has been in remission now for 10 years.

“I had total confidence in my doctors,” he said. “I never really worried. There’s no way to really thank people for saving your life.”

But Lennon still wanted to say thank-you. His jar full of dollar bills, $399 in total, will go directly to the Cancer Institute to help patients like his grandfather and uncle.

“I have 10 more dollars left to bring,” he said. “I left it at home.”