Leader Blues

Monday, April 13, 2009

TOP STORY >> Cancer survivor visits White House

Leader staff writer

Looking at 13-year-old Shelby Clinton of Sherwood, no one would think he is a six-year survivor in a battle against cancer.

Clinton, who’s been cancer-free for four years now, was recently named the Arkansas Children’s Hospital representative to a Children’s Miracle Network Gathering of Champions — youngsters from across the country and numerous foreign countries who have battled debilitating injuries and illnesses — in Orlando, Fla., and Washington.

In Orlando, Clinton, along with the rest of the champions and their families, enjoyed time at Disneyworld with corporate sponsors of the Children’s Miracle Network. Then it was off to tour Washington and meet President Obama.

Clinton, who considers himself a Republican, said it was a great honor to meet the president, a Democrat, but was more excited about meeting Miss America, Katie Stam of Indiana.

When asked what he thought of Miss America, the Lakewood Middle School student just smiled, blushed and giggled.

Of meeting the president, Clinton was surprised that there wasn’t more Secret Service agents around him. “He was very casual and shook all of our hands,” Clinton said.

The youngster admitted he didn’t get to speak directly to the president or ask him any questions, “but one of the kids in our group did ask if we could play on the new playground equipment on the South Lawn of the White House.”

“The president said sure, and if anyone says anything, you just tell them I said it was okay,” Clinton reminisced.

The playground equipment had just been installed as a surprise to Obama’s daughters. “They played on it that day, and we played on it the next. That was pretty cool,” the youngster said.

Besides the playground and getting to pose with Miss America and country singer Mark Wills, Clinton liked all the usual tourist stops in Washington.

“It’s a really big city,” he said, “and the Washington Monument is really tall.”

Clinton and others even got to have lunch in the Senate building and he met Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), but didn’t get to see any of the Arkansas senators.

The youngster said his favorite exhibit in the Smithsonian was the Hope Diamond.

He is the son of Darlene and Bill Clinton and has an older sister, Sara, and older brother, Chris.

Clinton was a 7-year-old second-grader when doctors discovered a cancerous tumor on his brain.

“I wasn’t feeling good. I had headaches and was throwing up at school. At first they thought it was the flu. But when the medicines didn’t help and I was still sick, the doctors looked again,” the teen explained.

“The doctor at the family clinic thought he spotted something and sent me for a CT scan that day. The scan showed the tumor and I went straight into the hospital and had surgery three days later,” Clinton said.

That was in December 2003.

The surgery was followed by a year’s worth of radiation and chemotherapy.

Clinton missed the second half of second grade and started third grade going mostly half days when he had the strength.

His mother Darlene said it was rough on his second-grade classmates. “Shelby was there one day and then he was gone,” she said.

Darlene Clinton said she went to the classroom a number of times and explained to the youngsters what was going on and gave them updates.

Clinton said he was scared during the surgery and treatments. “To me, it wasn’t normal. It wasn’t supposed to be happening to a kid,” he said.

Clinton can’t say enough about his doctor at Arkansas Children’s Hospital.

“My doctor at Arkansas Children’s Hospital wasn’t just a doctor that gives medicine. He cared for his patients and made them feel better. I want to be a doctor like him when I grow up,” he said.

But Clinton found out quickly that a surprising number of kids had cancer. “I made a lot of friends while I was at the hospital, and some of them didn’t make it,” he said.

When not getting good grades in school or playing soccer and basketball, Clinton gives a lot of his time and energy back to the hospital and the Children’s Miracle Network.

“They gave me so much, I’m happy to give back,” Clinton said.

Clinton has done radio and television spots and talked to a number of groups about his experience.

The Children’s Miracle Network Champions program honors remarkable children from the United States, Canada, Ireland, the United Kingdom and Australia who have triumphed despite severe medical challenges.