Fort Polk opens arms, hearts to Vinton youth
Drake Quibodeaux, who at the time was a 7-year-old enjoying the outdoors with his family, suddenly had his live turn upside down on March 11.
“He was driving our boat, a perfectly normal child,” Drake’s mother, Danielle Quibodeaux said. “Then he had a seizure, was paralyzed and stayed in the hospital for six weeks.”
After running tests, the prognosis was grim: Diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG), a brain tumor found in a part of the brain stem called the pons.
The pons controls essential bodily functions such as heartbeat, breathing, swallowing, eye movement, eyesight and balance. And there is no cure at this time.
“It’s hard,” Drake’s dad, Christopher Quibodeaux said. “Finding out about all of this we looked at it and a lot of times we questioned. The doctors have said there is no cure. I just want to get the word out that the treatment for this is the same as it was 75 years ago.”
Radiation is part of the standard course of treatment for DIPG patients, as it is the only form of treatment that has proven benefits. For roughly 70 percent of DIPG patients, radiation causes the tumor to shrink, which provides relief from many of the symptoms associated with DIPG.
Drake turned 8 in June. Doctors told the family that only 5 percent of those affected with DIPG survive a year, and only 1 percent 2 years. Drake is at 9 months now.
“But he’s still with us, still in pretty good health,” Christopher said.
For his birthday, Drake asked for birthday cards and received about 75. He decided to set higher goals for Christmas cards, hoping for 190. That’s when Fort Polk got involved.
“A Soldier from Korea reached out to Command Sergeant Major (Jerry) Dodson (Fort Polk garrison command sergeant major) about Drake, and because our BOSS (Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers) program is involved with community work, we thought we would move forward with it,” Cpl. Devon Douglas, BOSS president said.
Dodson said he gave Danielle Quibodeaux a telephone call and learned Christopher is a veteran.
“We’ve done other projects similar to this, and following the Soldier for Life theme, we decided to see how we could help,” Dodson said.
Dodson said he used the installation’s public affairs office to spread Drake’s story and the response was overwhelming. On Dec. 19 Dodson, his spouse, Kim, and Douglas made the 2-hour trip to Vinton, La., the Quibodeaux’s hometown, bearing gifts and cards from the Fort Polk Family.
Dodson said as soon as he entered the Quibodeaux residence and saw the boxes of cards (more than 40,000 at last count), he realized a lot of people wanted to reach out and brighten Drake’s life.
“It reiterates our commitment to not only the local Fort Polk community, but also to the state of Louisiana,” Dodson said. “Fort Polk tries very hard to expand our community relationships. For me, being a father, I would want this type of support if I was in the same situation, especially around the holidays.”
Douglas said he contacted his friends throughout the Army community and asked them to spread the word about Drake.
“Friends from Japan and Africa said they would get their folks to help out,” Douglas said. “They might not know what’s going on here in Louisiana, but they know us and they know the uniform, and they know the good feeling from helping people. For anyone who cares, this hits home.”
Astronaut Neil Armstrong’s daughter died of DIPG. As a DIPG tumor begins to grow, it puts pressure on the nerves that control the essential bodily functions regulated by the pons. Children with DIPG commonly experience double vision, reduced eye movement, facial weakness or asymmetry, and arm and leg weakness. They also have problems with walking, coordination, speech, chewing and swallowing. As the tumor progresses, it also interferes with breathing and heartbeat, which ultimately results in the child’s death.
Christopher said he’s hoping — and praying — for a cure, not just for his son, but for all children affected by DIPG.
“There needs to be a cure,” he said. “I know he (Drake) knows the ‘Man upstairs,’ and there is always a reason why things happen. From the cards he’s gotten, people have made life-altering changes after hearing about his struggles and faith. He’s leading people to the Lord. I believe we’re all called to do something, so we’re going to take this journey and roll with it: If he’s healed that’s great, but if the good Lord decides to take him, I’ll know where he is. He’s a fighter. Been fighting this for 9 months. He’s much tougher than me.”
Danielle said the family no longer focuses on the future because they don’t know what the future holds.
“It’s hard, so we live each day like it’s a blessing — that’s what each day is,” she said. “When we’re having bad days, because his tumor started growing again, he’ll say, ‘It’s OK mom, God’s got me.’”
Danielle said Drake has a hard time believing so many people have reached out to him.
“He said, ‘Momma, I didn’t know so many people love me. They tell me I’m strong,’” she said. “I told him ‘You’ve made people realize what Christmas is all about.’”
Danielle said the gift Drake received that means the most to her is a crucifix from a Soldier.
“He said, ‘It’s battle-tested and proven. Drake, I hope it helps you,’” she said.
The Quibodeauxs have been invited to Fort Polk in late January where Drake will have an opportunity to be a Soldier for a day. Until then, Danielle said the family will enjoy each day.
“Whenever I’m feeling down, as I often am these days, and start to cry and think how unfair it is for Drake to have to go through this, he tells me, ‘Don’t worry momma, it’s in God’s hands and He has me,’” she said.
If you would like to send a card to help brighten Drake's holiday, here’s his address:
2412 Hwy 388
Vinton, LA, 70668