North Texas Daily

Saving Dax’s hearing

Saving Dax’s hearing

December 03
03:46 2015

Matt Payne | Senior Staff Writer

@MattePaper

When Lisa Thakker was diagnosed with breast cancer in August of 2014, the tightly knit Flower Mound community she had lived among for more than 10 years was wholly affected.

A single mother when she received the diagnosis, Lisa said her battle with breast cancer was a remarkably taxing time for her.

“I was tasked with raising my two children on my own, making sure they don’t jump on couches and go to sleep by 8:30,” Lisa said. “It was the most stressful period of my life I’ve ever gone through.”

A note hangs on the Thakker family fridge. Dax wrote his mother notes every day before he left for school while she was undergoing chemotherapy. Hannah Ridings | Senior Staff Photographer

A note hangs on the Thakker family fridge. Dax wrote his mother notes every day before he left for school while she was undergoing chemotherapy. Hannah Ridings | Senior Staff Photographer

The Thakker household is nestled in a quaint cul-de-sac surrounded by several shady trees and neighborhood children who played soccer together.

Every resident is accustomed to being on a first name, familial basis with everybody who is a part of the block’s group. Community barbecues, yard sales and any activity integrating the community are frequent occurrences.

Without the persistent support of the neighborhood, Lisa said she doesn’t think she would be who she is today: a healthy survivor of cancer.

“We often leave our doors unlocked, and it isn’t uncommon for neighbors to just pop in for a visit,” Lisa said.

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She also knows she wouldn’t be where she is without her 7-year-old son, Dax Thakker.

Dax, who was 5 at the time, would leave Lisa a series of notes through her illness. His well wishes and encouragement to get better soon were incentives for his beloved mother to do just that. In the spirit of a young boy, Dax wished for his mother to live.

“Dear Mom, I hope you do not dies!” one of Dax’s notes began. “I got this present to mac [make] you hape [happy].”

Dax Thakker had his first ear surgery a couple of weeks ago, but it has not stopped him from jumping on couches and playing soccer with his neighborhood friends. Hannah Ridings | Senior Staff Photographer

Dax Thakker had his first ear surgery a couple of weeks ago, but it has not stopped him from jumping on couches and playing soccer with his neighborhood friends. Hannah Ridings | Senior Staff Photographer

Now, two and a half years later, the tables have turned. Lisa, her family and local community are all hoping for Dax’s recovery as he battles congenital cholesteatoma, a condition where a tumor develops over the eardrum, slowly deteriorating the tissue over a span of months.

Dax’s school teacher first noticed something was wrong when the child would spontaneously act out during class, uncharacteristically speaking when other students were talking and finding himself unable to stay stationary for too long.

“During parent-teacher conferences, his teachers mentioned that he had the potential to be a troublemaker,” Lisa said. “He really didn’t know any better, just having fun and causing a little bit of trouble.”

During a routine hearing check-up with the school nurse, she noticed a substantial hearing loss of about 40 percent since his last visit and recommended that Lisa and her husband, Anooj, with whom she had reunited, should take their son to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist.

Lisa Thakker keeps the photos of the implant in Dax’s ear on her phone. The metal is to protect his ear drum from further damage. Hannah Ridings | Senior Staff Photographer

Lisa Thakker keeps the photos of the implant in Dax’s ear on her phone. The metal is to protect his ear drum from further damage. Hannah Ridings | Senior Staff Photographer

Upon a visit to Dr. Paul Bauer, who practices in the same clinic Lisa visited when her younger daughter, Olive, had ear infections, the Thakkers discovered the tumor that was covering and eroding Dax’s left eardrum.

Left untreated, Dax’s left-ear hearing would not only be eliminated, but the tumor would also spread through his face, potentially harming nerves that affect smell, sight and taste.

“Hearing loss is second on our list,” Lisa said. “Technology advances so rapidly, I’m sure over the course of the next few years there’d be some solution to his hearing. We’ve been worried about stronger consequences.”

Because the bones of the ear are the smallest and most delicate in the human body, removal of the tumor requires a series of surgeries. A slight quiver of the hand could permanently rupture and eliminate Dax’s hearing.

Despite the risk, Bauer, a medical veteran for more than 20 years, has been resolute in the recuperation of Dax’s hearing. He said in spite of the delicacy the surgeries demand, he is motivated to have the rare opportunity to save Dax’s hearing.

“Most medical professionals never get to see this condition in their entire careers,” Bauer said. “It’s an extremely rare condition and a very delicate process.”

When the Thakkers first visited Bauer, he presented a variety of data and graphs showing a spectrum of ear infections. After the initial examination, Bauer was immediately able to discern the problem.

Dax and his father Anooj Thakker spend as much time as they can playing when Dax is out of the hospital or not in recovery. Hannah Ridings | Senior Staff Photographer

Dax and his father Anooj Thakker spend as much time as they can playing when Dax is out of the hospital or not in recovery. Hannah Ridings | Senior Staff Photographer

Lisa scrutinized every detail, absorbing as much knowledge as was given. Dax, meanwhile, continued to explore his adored game, Minecraft, saying one day he wants to start his own YouTube channel featuring his gameplay.

When Bauer asked Dax if he had any questions regarding the surgery, the child only needed one word to answer.

“Nah.“

Through every checkup and medical detail shared with the Thakkers, Dax has yet to express any worry.

With his younger sister Olive, Dax pounces from one couch cushion to another under his father’s supervision and kicks soccer balls with anybody who wants to join the hooting and hollering around the block.

“This whole ordeal hasn’t stopped him from being a kid,” Anooj said. “He’s got so much energy. He falls down. He gets rough and runs around the house. A 7-year-old will be a 7-year-old.”

This Halloween evening, the Thakkers found themselves sitting in a quiet lobby that they had all to themselves. Rain dripped down the windows outside, and the lights were dim as they waited for the results of their son’s first operation.

Although the Thakkers were nervous about the potential ramifications of the attempted surgery, they described the experience as tranquil.

Dax’s ear is currently in a stable position but all of that could change if the schedule for his medications is not a strict one. Hannah Ridings | Senior Staff Photographer

Dax’s ear is currently in a stable position but all of that could change if the schedule for his medications is not a strict one. Hannah Ridings | Senior Staff Photographer

Prior to the operation, one of the assisting nurses approached Lisa. Having been interviewed by local radio station KCBI on “Mornings with Jeff and Rebecca,” the nurse told Lisa she had heard their story of battling disease, and how inspired she was by the family.

“It was really something to hear that in the midst of everything,” Lisa said. “The environment was unexpectedly relaxing.”

Finally, they received the results: Dax’s first of two surgeries was a success.

With most of the tumor now removed, his left ear is now supported by a prosthetic incus bone fashioned from titanium. As Dax’s eardrum begins to heal, his hearing will start to redevelop. The final surgery, which is scheduled to take place near the Christmas holiday, will attempt to reconstruct the fractured bones behind Dax’s ear.

The December surgery should be the last operation Dax undergoes, but the potential for error is still present.

Nevertheless, the Thakkers dress themselves with an open-minded approach that they strive to apply to their medical journeys, and their overall lifestyle.

“It’s definitely been an adventure,” Anooj said. “But when it comes down to it, that’s what life is.”

To support and inform the general public of Dax’s journey, Lisa started a GoFundMe campaign to aid in raising funds to pay the medical bills. Not only has the campaign surpassed over 75 percent of its $5,000 goal, but Lisa has also gained a faithful, curious group of supporters near and far, all hoping for the seamless recovery of Dax’s hearing.

As Lisa and Anooj prepare for their third child, due in 2016, they have one philosophy to guide them through their obstacles.

“Life is insane, but we’ve learned to choose our battles,” Lisa said. “Every little bad thing is not always a bad thing. These are what make us grow.”

Featured Image: Dax’s mother Lisa does her best to keep him from being too active. He is supposed to rest as much as possible so the implant in his ear does not shift. Hannah Ridings | Senior Staff Photographer

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