As the 23-minute video ended, and the audience’s applause died away, a 10-year-old British lad seated in his wheelchair on the Kansas City stage lowered his head — and cried.
His father walked to his side, patted his back, kissed his head and whispered into his ear.
Slowly, Alex Goodwin turned to face the many admirers who had come to help him celebrate beating back cancer in middle America — a place where everyone, it seemed, had embraced him after British doctors wrote off his life.
Alex wiped his face with his arm. His father picked up a microphone.
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“It’s quite an emotional 23 minutes,” Jeff Goodwin said of the video, a shortened version of a documentary called “Alexander’s Journey.” It and a book due out soon tell the story of parents who refused to give in after hearing their son had only weeks or months to live, and of the thousands of friends and strangers on two continents who rallied to give them and their oldest child hope.
He wouldn’t be alive today if he hadn’t come, his parents say.
Bald for many months because of chemotherapy, Alex is changing fast now. He has a fresh head of hair, a bit lighter than before. His eyebrows are growing thicker. And though some redness remains along that long scar on surgically reconstructed right leg, the leg can move better than it has in months.
The Ewing’s sarcoma that started there is gone, hopefully forever, though that’s not a given.
Surgeons replaced Alex’s original right hip, thigh bone and knee with mechanical ones. His bones, and some surrounding tissue, had been attacked by the sarcoma, which grew unabated for six months after the first intense pains in Alex’s body screamed a warning.
By the time British doctors realized their first three diagnoses had been wrong, Alex couldn’t walk. He needed morphine every two hours.
As his parents searched for answers, his father embraced social media and began tweeting Alex’s story and recording updates for Facebook. Before long, Alex had 2,000 followers. And new ones kept showing up.
They included Kansas City, Kan., Police Chief Terry Zeigler, who grew enamored by the small boy with an upbeat attitude. When Jeff Goodwin, a police officer in England, asked Zeigler via Twitter one day what he know about a certain cancer treatment, Zeigler put the family in touch with the University of Kansas Health System.
In December, Alex and his family boarded a plane bound for Kansas City, where a gaggle of police cars and motorcycle officers greeted the group. The Goodwins soon became inspirational regulars at Children’s Mercy Hospital and the University of Kansas Hospital.
Alex had lots of tests before chemotherapy, surgery and radiation. Physical therapy challenged him several times a week. Then earlier this month, surgeons replaced his first artificial femur with a specially crafted one that can be lengthened as Alex grows.
Along the way, he turned 10 — and gained so many more social media followers that Twitter suspended his account twice in the false belief he was using computer software or some other unscrupulous way to grow followers. He has more than 24,700 on Twitter alone.
He expects to fly home Aug. 20, after nearly nine months in America, two trips to Disney World and numerous fun days at the Kansas City Zoo and Lakeside Nature Center. He will miss the owls at Lakeside, he admits. But he looks forward to returning home to another favorite, a small owl named Murray. And he’s be back, probably once every three months, for tests and to get the leg lengthened.
The video presentation Thursday night at Unity Temple on the Country Club Plaza had been planned for many weeks in conjunction with Rainy Day Books. As part of the event, Alex had expected to autograph copies of his new book, which has the same name as the documentary.
Proceeds from both will help pay for his continued physical therapy and return trips to Kansas City. The book now is expected to be released in late August.
Even without it, Alex looked like a celebrity Thursday. Shortly after he entered the Unity Temple foyer, everyone wanted a moment of his time.
Kurt Hoffman of Lenexa gave him a U.S. Navy hat and some well wishes.
Tim Grimes of Fairway, also once diagnosed with terminal cancer, gave Alex a T-shirt bearing a Kansas City skyline and the words: I’m not going anywhere.
Kimberly Hess, who works at Lakeside, rubbed Alex’s new crop of hair and called it “awesome.” Her gaze followed him as he rolled away to greet the next fan. “He’s a good little fella,” she said.
His family has come so far since hearing that Alex had only weeks or months to live, said his mother, Maruska Goodwin. She hopes that his story will help other people find ways to fight through bad times.
“It took a lot of courage to do what we’ve done,” she said. “We had to think outside the box.”
At the opening of his documentary, Alex says he must defeat his cancer. “It’s all about being happy and staying strong,” he says.
Toward the end, his father talks of wanting Alex to grow into a man who cares about people, who is healthy, who falls in love and who experiences joy with friends.
“I want him to go through all those things,” Jeff Goodwin says, “that I didn’t think he was going to be able to do.”