FARGO, N.D. — Three-year-old Hudson Francis has been making weekly 300-mile round trips from his home in Surrey to Fargo for leukemia treatments. Now, with his cancer in remission, he's left doctors, nurses, patients and others early Christmas presents.
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Hats for everybody.
"We're not the only family going through this," said Hudson's mother, Anne Francis. "He just wanted to do something to give back to the kids who are going through being in the hospital."
Hudson and his 11-year-old sister, Hannah, came up with the idea for a hat drive together, their mother said.
"His sister had a hard time watching him go through what he's going through," Anne Francis said. "She helped out a lot on the hat drive. She e-mailed all her friends about this and got a little network going."
Anne Francis helped out by posting a blog about the hat drive on the Caring Bridge site. The only requirement was that the hats be new, with tags on them.
The family received more than 500 hats of all types, including one that came from New Zealand. One donation had two hats from rival NFL teams, one with a Minnesota Vikings logo and one with a Green Bay Packers logo.
"That shows you the effect this had on people," Anne said. "It was overwhelming to go to the mailbox every day and have something new come from all those different places."
The family distributed the hats over the last two weeks.
Francis, who had been running a day care center in Surrey, said Hudson started feeling sick shortly after he turned 3 in March. When she took him to a Minot clinic after he came down with an ear infection, doctors immediately ordered blood tests.
"They knew just by looking at him something was wrong," Anne said.
Hudson was transferred by ambulance to MeritCare Children's Hospital in Fargo. Drs. Sandeep Batra and Nathan Kobrinsky, two pediatric oncologists, diagnosed their patient with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common type of leukemia in children.
"Luckily, it's also the leukemia that is the most curable," Batra said. "The kind of leukemia he has, almost 90 percent of the kids get cured. It's a pretty good overall outcome."
The first few months were the most difficult, Batra said, with a lot of prodding and poking and getting used to chemotherapy. The early stage of treatment included significant doses of steroids, known to affect patients' moods.
"His first few months were very challenging for him," Batra said. "But he turned around marvelously and got back to smiling and laughing. He's just himself now."
There were times when the family would drive 30 hours a week. They typically left on Monday night for Tuesday chemo treatments. In all, they've driven more than 21,000 miles since April.
"I've changed oil quite a few times," said Joshua Francis, Hudson's father.
Anne Francis was forced to close her day care because of the treatment schedule and the need to limit Hudson's exposure to others because of his suppressed immune system. But the experience has convinced her to become a nurse, or maybe even a doctor.
"The doctors and nurses are amazing," she said. "They give you so much hope. They're saving his life."
Hudson says his favorite hat is his fire truck hat. For his doctors, he said, he picked out special ones — "Silly hat and Indiana Jones hat."
Batra, who said he's losing his hair, is ready for one.
"I definitely will need a hat pretty soon," the doctor said, laughing.
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