A birthday wish for Benjamin

By Jennifer Lassiter
star staff
jlassiter@starhq.com

  JOHNSON CITY -- Rebekah Pruitt celebrates her son Benjamin's third birthday with a surprise with a four-wheel ride on the giant swamp buggy. Friends and family members waited anxiously as Benjamin recuperated from his radiation treatment and dental work on Friday to share Benjamin's birthday wish with team members at Johnson City Medical Center (JCMC).
  "He loves anything with wheels," said Rebekah, Benjamin's mom. "It's so good to see him smile and be happy. So many people care so much about him."
  Designed to plunge through the densely forested Everglades, the swamp buggy is owned by Bridges Cafe of Elizabethton.
  Yvette Bridges, Bridges Cafe manager, said her dad has owned it for years. He purchased the giant four-wheeler while they lived in Florida.
  "It will go through anything," said Bridges.
  When they found out about Benjamin's birthday wish they were willing to do anything they could to help him celebrate, and were delighted to take part added Bridges.
  June Honeycutt, Benjamin's radiation therapy nurse, watched as Benjamin, his mom, and his 5-year-old sister Kristen took a cruise through the medical center parking lot on the seven-foot-tall swamp buggy.
  Honeycutt stood along side three other nurses who see Benjamin on a regular basis.
  "We have all grown to love Benjamin," said Honeycutt.
  Benjamin turned three years old on Friday, and has been battling a germcell tumor for a little over a year. Benjamin was born with a benin cyst on the base of his spine that was discovered when he was four days old. The cyst was removed, but came back as malignancy when he was two years old.
  Since the discovery of the malignancy, Benjamin has been receiving chemotherapy and radiation treatment, along with several surgeries to stop the cancerous tumor.
  According to Dr. Kyle Colvett, Benjamin's radiation oncologist at the Regional Cancer Center within the JCMC, germcell tumors develop from embryonic cells, which grow abnormally.
  Colvett has been giving radiation therapy to Benjamin for a approximately four weeks with two more weeks scheduled. Small children offer special challenges for the doctors according to Colvett, although it is common to work with young children. Benjamin is currently the youngest patient they have, but they've treated younger patients.
  "A birthday is the opportunity to celebrate life. It's nice to see him interact and be a little boy, not a patient," said Colvett.
  The Pruitts stay with Benjamin at the Ronald McDonald House, located behind the JCMC, Monday through Friday, returning home to Evarts, Ky., only on weekends. Benjamin has been receiving care through St. Jude's Children's Hospital at the JCMC along with their radiology team members.
  Saint Jude's Children's Hospital, the Tri-Cities affiliate clinic, is an outpatient chemotherapy clinic especially designed for children. With the headquarters in Memphis, affiliated clinics allow patients to receive care close to home.
   According to Mark Serago, executive director of the Tri-Cities St. Jude's, they are under the same treatment protocols in Johnson City as in Memphis. They receive 25 new kids a year at the regional center, which has been in operation for four years.