North Texas Daily

Beyond Dax’s hearing

Beyond Dax’s hearing

Beyond Dax’s hearing
June 10
16:32 2016

Matt Payne | Features Editor

@MattePaper

Everyday life for elementary school children should be simple.

Their concerns include how long they’ll play at recess, whether they have food they love packed inside their lunch boxes to munch on come lunch hour and the short stretch before bedtime they’ll have to escape into their favorite video games after their homework is done. Many children don’t afford these subjects a second thought and don’t have to.

Eight-year-old Dax Thakker is one of these children. From a tightly knit cul-de-sac in Flower Mound, he has always loved playing Minecraft on his iPad and running across both grass and asphalt chasing soccer balls with friends. He’s fascinated with the latest Star Wars movie and can be counted on to devour one or two hot dogs.

But, after these past six months, Dax’s childhood is no longer that simple.

Dax has a rare condition called congenital cholesteatoma, which was discovered nearly a year ago after his school’s nurse performed a routine hearing check and recommended he receive further examination. The cholesteatoma is material that formed a malignant tumor, and if it were left untreated, it would’ve gradually eliminated his sense of hearing in his left ear only to expand to destroy his taste, smell and sight. The tumor has since been removed, but not before it destroyed his left ear’s incus bone.

Surgery No. 1 replaced the original incus bone with a prosthetic model and partially restored his hearing. The operation was critical for Dax to undergo, but even months after the tumor removal complications still remain.

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Dax’s grandmother and father stand by Dax before he goes into his surgery. Hannah Ridings | Contributing Photographer

“It’s traumatic seeing him wake up from a surgery, face completely whitewashed,” Dax’s grandmother, Becky Wukits, said. “At this point, you could call us hospital veterans.”

Wukits and her husband have been present for both of Dax’s major surgeries. Six months after his first visit to Cook’s Children Medical Center in Lewisville, Dax was back for another surgery to adjust the prosthetic bone that began to agitate his eardrum. In a waiting room where only he and his family sat, he dragged his small limbs across the top of a tiny alcove just big enough for children to seclude into, nearly silent and only mumbling indistinct words. He hadn’t eaten for 12 hours in preparation for the appointment, and his stomach roiled from the fatigue of hunger. His younger sister, Olive, had to be moved out of his eyesight. Her snacking caused Dax too much agony.

It wouldn’t have normally been an issue for him, as one consequence of Dax’s first surgery on his left ear was the loss of taste on the left side of his tongue. During the invasive procedure, doctors accidentally severed a nerve responsible for transmitting the sensation of taste to his brain. Foods that were once salty sometimes taste sweet, and certain entrees now strike him as salty. Dax used to love chicken tenders, but can no longer agree with the altered taste.

“He’ll never be obese, if there’s any bright side to all of this,” Wukits said about her grandson’s aversion to formerly favorite foods. “But it will forever be a shame to see him lose so many things he used to enjoy.”

Between visits to the medical center, Dax’s grandparents have also made sure to visit him and his family in Flower Mound to ensure they can enjoy sleepovers eating candy and playing board games for family fun. Fun to supplement all his time in examination chairs, operating tables and the several activities Dax has had to be extra-cautious toward to protect his ear.

“All he wants to do is be a kid like any other,” Wukits said. “We try and help with that in any way that we can.”

He laid in painful silence among pastel cushions and cheerful murals on a beautiful summer day before the surgery. Through his faint murmurs, both his grandparents and parents were able to discern a request for something most kids are allowed to enjoy any day, but was currently denied to him: some food from McDonald’s.

Going under

Lisa Thakker, Dax’s mother, slowly approached her sickly son as he curled amid the linen covers of the operation bed. She had to be careful with her steps, as she was in the last trimester of her third pregnancy.

Joined by the father, Anooj Thakker, they remained within a few inches of Dax’s face as the 8-year-old began to feel the precarious high of the anesthesia pill taken minutes before the surgery. Anooj’s hand fully covered Dax’s small hand as all he could muster were faint moans while his arms and legs slithered between the metal guardrails of the operating bed.

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Dax Thakker falls asleep in a hospital bed as he holds his father Anooj Thakker’s hand before surgery. Hannah Ridings | Contributing Photographer

Soft whispers consoled the boy as he began to succumb to the temporary slumber. Though he was losing consciousness, Anooj’s palm never left Dax’s increasingly limp hand. Both parents vetted themselves with an attitude of intentional optimism for the entire ordeal that has continued for nearly a year now.

“We’re fortunate to be able to have the same doctor and facility. Having to go back and forth has made the doctors really passionate about figuring out Dax’s situation,” Anooj said. “And going to the doctor for multiple reasons over these past months has made us realize that importance.”

Not only has the series of operations and several check-ups in between naturally taken its toll on Dax, but in combination with Lisa and family having to rush to spontaneously rush to the ER twice because of her pregnancy, one of the family’s vehicles smashed into by a robber during a short visit to Olive’s daycare and Dax’s ear needing constant awareness, the stress is felt across the board by the Thakkers.

During a recent family cruise, for instance, Dax had to sport a neoprene band over his ear that held smashed wax in place that would prevent any water from splashing into it. He was unable to swim and only got to watch as the other children present were able to indulge in the summer pastime.

“Having to watch out for his ear has become simple at this point. More so than watching out for fellow children who choked him at recess,” Anooj said, recalling a recent incident when Dax was attacked by a fellow student at his school.

As his parents reflected upon their journey up to this point where the incision tick-marks from a black marker returned to Dax’s earlobe, all they could hear were doctors asking him if he were “happy yet,” if the pill had taken its full effect.

“Daddy, is Dax where he used to be?” Olive asked her father.

“Yeah, they just wheeled him back.”

Growing pains

Just past 5 p.m., past the janitorial staff that began to clean the now-dimmed waiting room and into the recovery suite, all that could be heard outside the silence of a closing medical facility was the constant pulse of the heart monitor wired onto Dax as he laid unconscious.

His latest surgery was complete, and cartilage was harvested from one portion of his ear and placed in between his prosthetic incus bone and left eardrum in order to cushion and prevent further friction.

“Now, the main concern is Dax’s hearing,” said nurse Cecelia Keil. “[The surgery] was essentially what we expected to happen, with few things different.”

One of the few things the doctors weren’t expecting to happen was the resurfacing of the cholesteatoma.

In order to drain Dax’s left ear of the tumor material, a hole was drilled inside his eardrum. Though Dax was showing signs of progress since his latest examination in January and could increasingly hear his mother tapping her fingers outside of his ear, the hearing in his ear after the surgery is temporarily disabled. Recovery will last a total of eight weeks as Dax’s eardrum recovers.

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Lisa Thakker sits by the hospital bed of her son Dax Thakker as she waits for him to wake up from surgery. Hannah Ridings | Contributing Photographer

And as he grows through childhood, Dax will never be able to go without medical examination. New bone material has begun to develop alongside his prosthetic incus bone and other ear bones.

“If he goes six months without any of the cholesteatoma returning, we’re out of the woods,” Keil said. “But Dax’s condition is something we will always have to pay attention to.”

Through an indefinite number of surgeries, procedures, examinations and never-ending caution for safety, Dax’s main concern is the restoration of his hearing.

But beyond Dax’s hearing is the desire for a healthy lifestyle outside of constant medical attention that carries ramifications into his everyday life.

“He’s been my little trooper through all this,” Lisa said, caressing her unconscious son’s face and closed eyes. “My little man is just a normal kid.”

Featured Image: Anooj Thakker (far right), Lisa Thakker (middle) and Becky Wukits (far left) show emotion as a nurse explains surgery results. Hannah Ridings | Contributing Photographer

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