A British lad who arrived five months ago worn down by an often-deadly cancer celebrated his 10th birthday Saturday at a Kansas City sanctuary for birds and other animals.
On this day, it held a huge flock of happy humans, too.
After a birthday meal capped with cupcakes, Alex gave his guests a show-and-tell talk about his favorite raptors.
“Be a bit quiet, please,” he urged in his British accent as a Lakeside Nature Center staff member pulled a beautiful barn owl from a covered cage. The owl named Legacy can be a bit vicious, Alex warned his audience.
The event felt extra special to Alexander Goodwin’s father, Jeff, a British constable who searched internationally for help after British doctors misdiagnosed his son then claimed they could do little to thwart the Ewing’s sarcoma destroying Alex’s right leg and hip as well as his life.
On Alex’s 9th birthday, cancer pain kept him bedridden. Not even morphine administered every two hours could rescue him that day.
British doctors said they doubted Alex would see his 10th birthday.
Yet in Kansas City, chemotherapy, surgery and radiation have subdued the cancer, which no longer shows activity on PET or MRI scans.
Five treatments of super-powerful radiation, called stereotactic radiation, soon will target two spots on his left side that could harbor remaining cells. In June or July, University of Kansas Hospital surgeons will replace the first artificial femur they implanted in Alex’s right leg with a telescoping one that can grow as he does. Ironically, it is coming from England, where it is being specially made to fit him.
After that, Alex faces months of physical therapy on a leg that has an artificial hip and knee in addition to the femur.
The only real bad news remaining is the 50/50 chance that the cancer will re-emerge someday. That’s how stubborn Ewing’s sarcoma can be.
But for now, his father describes Alex’s 10th birthday as “poignant.”
“Every day genuinely is a blessing,” Jeff Goodwin said. “The fact that he is still here and fighting and we’ve gotten through the worst of it now. … It’s good. I’m really happy.”
So is Alex, who seldom talks about the cancer.
He’d rather discuss owls, eagles, falcons and hawks.
His love of raptors helped turn Lakeside Nature Center near Swope Park into his favorite Kansas City locale, a place where birds can perch on his gloved arm while he admires and talks to them.
Lakeside also is where his friends gathered Saturday for a celebration that actually began Thursday, on Alex’s birthday. That day, he awoke in his temporary Kansas home shared by his parents and sister feeling much better than a year earlier.
In mid-morning, Kansas City, Kan., police officers brought him so many birthday cards — more than 300 — he couldn’t get them all read that day. He also received hundreds of social media birthday greetings, including videos and photographs, from old and new friends alike. That night, his family celebrated with dinner at the home of one of the doctors who has been treating him. The main dish: pizza.
Oh, how Alex misses fish and chips. And the Chinese food his parents always bought from a nearby pub back home.
But Kansas City has good steaks, he admits.
And awesome people, he says.
On Saturday, many of his new friends attending his birthday barbecue wore their police or sheriff uniforms, a nod to how much the law enforcement community has embraced Alex and his family.
He darted through the crowd in his wheelchair, stopping to talk, eat and twirl one of his gifts — a spinning fidget — on his forehead.
Later, he got the chance to play bird expert.
As he held a barred owl named Hootie, he explained how it had to be taken in because it had cataracts and couldn’t see to hunt at night, when owls look for food.
Then he held Darwin, an eastern screech owl affected by West Nile virus before it was born.
Next, a staffer raised the barn owl, Legacy. Many in the crowd gasped when they saw its beautiful face.
Alex explained how barn owls like cemeteries, where people sometimes mistake them for ghosts because so many of their feathers are white.
After he grows up, Alex wants to own owls. Three would be perfect, he says.
“I would never want to grow out of birds,” he said. “Never.”
Asked what he looks forward to most as a 10-year-old, Alex doesn’t mention beating cancer.
“Working with birds of prey, most of all,” he said. “They are really special to me in my life. Just like my dad.”