For the first fifteen years of his life, Thomas Dixon was a normal boy. After school, his afternoons were filled with sports such as hockey, tennis, and soccer. He describes himself as a “super athletic kid.” But along with his athleticism came symptoms of what he, his family, and his doctors alike counted as a mixture of run-of-the-mill asthma and allergies. “I had been getting allergy shots because that’s what the doctors thought it was,” Dixon said.
It wasn’t until the winter of his freshman year when his symptoms become “terrible” as he described them. “I was sick all the time, we didn’t know what was wrong with me.”
Thomas and his mom went on a spree of visits, seeing four or five doctors, none of which could diagnose him with anything other than the common cold. They visited a naturopathic doctor and even considered acupuncture to try and aid his symptoms. It wasn’t until they came across Dr. Lasker, a pulmonologist at Lake Forest Pediatrics, when their seemingly inexplicable question was answered.
“Dr. Lasker looked at the big picture and told us it was one of three things: tuberculosis, cystic fibrosis, or some other disease,” Dixon mentioned. They decided to run a test for CF on Monday; on Tuesday, Thomas was diagnosed, and on Wednesday night he was in Lurie Children’s Hospital because his symptoms had become so severe. Thomas got a PFT, or pulmonary functioning test, which is a noninvasive test that shows how well one’s lungs are functioning. Thomas’ PFT revealed something alarming. “A normal, active adult’s PFT would be 110. Mine was 40. At that point, they had no idea how I was alive.” After these stressful few days and an avalanche of life-altering information, Dixon spent two weeks at Lurie’s and made a full recovery and his PFT was back to “normal.”
Cystic Fibrosis is a genetic disease that is normally diagnosed in infancy. In 2008, Illinois made pre-screening for genetic diseases mandatory for pregnant women so that they’re aware if their unborn baby has one. Had screening been available in 2001, Thomas’ family would have known he had CF. “Normally, with babies, if they aren’t diagnosed within the first five months of their lives, they die.” Dixon shared. But then there was Thomas, who, despite constantly feeling a bit under the weather, miraculously had a led a normal life.
Though his world had seemingly turned upside down, Thomas returned to school, lacrosse, and regular high schooler activities after his bout in the hospital. The flood of help from the school was “incredible,” he added with a smile. “My counselor, Ms. Stetson, and all my teachers just told me to focus on my recovery and that we would figure everything out when I got back.”
The pieces began to come together after Thomas’ diagnosis. Ironically, cardiovascular activity often helps CF patients, so his body subconsciously compensated for his symptoms because of his athletic nature. “Looking back on it, I was constantly sick,” he joked, “but it just became normal for me.”
Last summer, Thomas was invited to speak at the 57th annual Pro Amateur Golf Championship Dinner at Shore Acres, an event that raises money for Lurie Children’s Hospital every year. “They asked me to come and speak to an audience of 250 people and tell my story.” Normally, the speakers are a couple with a baby who talk on behalf of their child who was treated at Lurie’s, but I think my story resonated with the audience because I was a full grown, well spoken teenager who could speak for myself.”
It was at this event when Thomas’ idea of having a fundraiser for Lurie’s at Lake Forest High School popped into his head. He talked to his mom about possibly planning a charity event to donate to Lurie Children’s Hospital, and she mentioned a dance marathon. “My mom went to Northwestern, which has the longest running philanthropic dance marathon of any college. And it’s really ironic because one of the years she did it with her sorority, they raised money for the CF Foundation. It’s like it’s come full circle.”
At the beginning of this year, Dixon imagined planning a dance marathon at LFHS, but just couldn’t see it materializing until he met with Mrs. Tomek in January. “She kind of told me, ‘Okay, well this is what we’re gonna have to do and this is how we’re going to have to do it,’ and that’s when I started to gather the committee to being planning it.”
Planning has been going well, as Thomas, Mrs. Tomek, and the committee have finalized a date and time: May 19, 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM, and a location: the gym at West Campus. The website to sign up is going live soon, and LFHS students will be able register and choose whether or not to join a team for the event. Once registered, students will go out and find sponsors, whether they be parents, friends, neighbors, or strangers. A sponsor can donate a flat rate or an hourly fee for how many hours their particpant dances. There are four 4-day Lollapalooza tickets for the four students who raise the most money, as well as a raffle for Hamilton tickets, and more prizes.
Thomas admits it has been a lot of work, as it’s been one of his main focuses his junior year, the year many dub as the most difficult of all of high school. But he’s enjoying it because he’s benefitting both the hospital that saved his life and Lake Forest High School. “[The dance marathon] is an imprint on the high school that could be my legacy,” he said. “The ultimate goal would be for it to be an annual thing… maybe one day it will be prom one weekend, the dance marathon the next.”