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Prayers for Luke

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"Lefty don't work."

Those were the words of five-year old Luke Akerstrom as he sat in his bed at Wolfson Children's Hospital, explaining that his dominant left hand was no longer functioning as normal.   Luke suffered a 30-minute seizure on Dec. 29 that has ravaged the left side of his body with what doctors have diagnosed as spinal meningitis. 

There were no warning signs except a little bit of fatigue in the days preceding, but he was a healthy boy who was playing his favorite Star Wars game on his Nintendo DS in the back of his parents' car.  The last 41 days have been anything but normal for Brandi and Magnus Akerstrom as they await answers. 

There are hundreds of stories like Luke's happening in our city. It's unfortunate that we don't realize the amount of children spending their days and nights in hospital beds all across Jacksonville unless it's featured on television or in the newspaper.  It's impossible for the media to know about every child that is struggling to survive or ones that have been dealt an unfair hand in life. 

If not for my brother who lives in Kentucky I would never have been aware of Luke, who currently spends his time at Brooks Rehabilitation awaiting a possible trip to Minnesota for further evaluation.  

My brother's Bible study group had been praying for Luke each Sunday as his mother, Brandi, has a good friend in the same group.  When my brother found out the child was from Jacksonville he reached out to me.  I immediately checked out the website his mother had created, PrayforLuke.com. 

That was all I needed to see.

Trust me, in my position with the Jaguars, I have the opportunity to meet hundreds of children each year whether it's at Wolfson Children's Hospital or at various team-related events.  It's amazing what an autographed helmet, football or visit by a player will do to their day.  Parents always communicate back to me that their child smiled for the first time in a while or they couldn't believe how excited their child was to be around someone they watched on television.

It's important for the Jaguars players to realize the impact they can have on a child with a single autograph, a handshake or just a hug.  You learn later on in life how far a hug and smile can go. Jaguars players made more than 650 community appearances in 2010 and the impact they had is immeasurable by any statistics.

These children deserve our attention and support in their fight against illnesses and circumstances out of their control. I made a stop at Wolfson Children's Hospital two weeks ago on behalf of the Jaguars to say hello to Luke and his family.  I knew if he lived in Jacksonville he was a Jaguars fans so I came loaded with Jaguars gear. 

What I found was a little boy fighting his own body as he lies in bed, his right side moving uncontrollably while his left side stays limp.  All eyes have to be on him as he can quickly scoot himself out of the bed.  His speech is slowly coming back to him and he lets out phrases that make his parents cringe at times but they realize it's part of the process.  He's prone to an occasional "See you sucka" that can quickly be followed by a "Peace out."  You listen close enough and he's developed his own little language. 

I received word last week that he was being moved to Brooks Rehab for further evaluation so I reached out to Brad and Jamie Meester to ask if they could visit Luke and his family.  The Meesters will probably be upset that I'm even mentioning their involvement because they are not a family that seeks attention.

The Meesters spent almost an hour with Luke and his family last Friday and made them feel at ease.  When they arrived, you could hear Luke crying behind a closed door as he went through extensive rehab.  The crying stopped soon thereafter as he was presented with an autographed jersey and climbed in the arms of Brad Meester. Back in his room, Luke was in a good spirits, communicating in his own way, showing off his muscles and laughing when tickled. The Akerstroms talked about the upcoming weeks and the answers they are awaiting from doctors. 

Have you ever torn a muscle or had your body cramp up with the muscles getting tight?  This is what Luke's legs feel like right now all the time and Jamie Meester tried to ease the pain by massaging his calf while they talked.  Luke gave his trademark smile in return, all that is needed at this time.

Of course, without anybody asking, the Meesters returned to the hospital on Super Bowl Sunday with their four girls and spent time with the family.  All of this is a welcome respite for a family that fights to do whatever is necessary to help their young child. 

The Akerstroms aren't asking for anything from anybody.  All they request is your prayers.  It's the least we can do.

Stop for a minute, hug your children, call your parents and tell them you love them.  Because you never know when your life will be completely turned upside down like it has been for Luke and his family.

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