The Van Wert County Courthouse

Friday, Apr. 12, 2024

VW boy happy to spend holidays at home

CINDY WOOD/independent feature writer

Local kindergartner Luke Hoffman receives well-wishes from Cincinnati Bengals Coach Marvin Lewis (front left) and Bengals players during his stay at Cincinnati Children's Hospital. (photos submitted)

Blonde hair, blue eyes, and a smile that can light up any room. Luke Hoffman, 5, of Van Wert, will undoubtedly break a few hearts some day.

This year, as his family celebrates the true reason for the Christmas season, Luke will be happy for many reasons, but most importantly, he’s happy to just be home.

Last year at this time, “home” was Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, where Luke spent three months recuperating and recovering from surgery to remove a cyst on his spinal column. The cyst, lodged between his third and fourth vertebrae, had essentially crushed his spinal column and resulted in paralysis from his neck down, and excruciating pain.

The family’s ordeal began in October of 2010 when the then 4-year-old began complaining about his neck hurting.

“We really didn’t think too much about it at first, and we thought he might have fallen,” his mother, Dawn Hoffman, said. “We took him to the doctor and they really couldn’t find anything wrong with him. But he kept complaining and the pain just kept getting worse.”

When the pain didn’t subside, Luke was taken to the emergency room on several occasions, where he was given pain medication and sent home. One morning, however, Luke was unable to stand up and he was rushed to Lutheran Hospital in Fort Wayne, Ind.

Initially, doctors there believed Luke might have been suffering from Guillain-Barre syndrome, a serious disorder when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks part of the nervous system. But an MRI scan revealed the cyst that had grown on his spinal column.

“He was just in constant pain and by then, he was paralyzed from his neck down,” Hoffman said, adding that before the family even got back to the room from the MRI, Luke was being transferred to Cincinnati. “The only way they could get him out of pain was to knock him out and give him something to sleep.”

The family arrived in Cincinnati near midnight and surgery was scheduled for the next morning, when a team of doctors cut a hole in Luke’s vertebrae and took a piece of bone out so they could decompress the cyst. Doctors believe Luke was actually born with the cyst, which progressively became larger over the years.

The family knew Luke had a long road ahead of him for recovery, but his mother was just pleased her son was able to smile again.

“The next day, he could already move his hands,” she said. “He could feel sensation in his legs, but he couldn’t move them. The best thing for us, though, was that he wasn’t in pain anymore.”

For the next three months, Luke stayed at the hospital as he worked to regain his strength, and hopefully, walk again. Therapy became a part of his daily life, and his family adjusted to their new home.

“Around Christmastime last year, Luke asked if we lived at the hospital now, and I had to get him to understand that we were just there until he got better,” Hoffman said.

Luke did get better, but it didn’t come without a few bumps and bruises along the way. In the days following the surgery, Luke’s progress was slow but consistent. Initially, Luke would lie on his stomach and use his right arm to move items.

Luke works on his physical therapy at Cincinnati Children's Hospital.

“At first, he had to sling his whole body around to move his hand,” Hoffman said. “I think it was probably a couple of weeks before he could move his arms. When he was able to start moving his feet, though, the doctors would tell him to move his legs, and he would pick up his leg with his arm and move it.”

After three months in the hospital, the family could finally come home, where more therapy and work would follow.

“When we brought him home, we had to hold him up to walk on his walker because he couldn’t hold himself up,” Hoffman said, adding that a special chair allowed Luke to sit up by himself.

These days, Luke is walking around his home, and only uses his walker or wheelchair for long distances. “He gets tired pretty quickly,” Hoffman said, adding that the emotional drain on her son was tough to watch at times. “It would make him mad to watch other kids run around, because he knew he used to be able to do that.”

“Sometimes, he dreams that he is running, and when he wakes up he is upset that it was just a dream,” Luke’s mother added.

Still, Hoffman, and her husband, Carl, often remind Luke about the remarkable progress he has made since last year. Doctors told the family that Luke’s condition is rare, and a prognosis is still not fully known.

“They’re not surprised that he has progressed so well, but there is still damage to his spinal chord, and there are some things they just don’t know yet,” Hoffman said. “But they say God doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle.”

Regardless of the unknowns, the Hoffman family certainly has reason to celebrate that Luke is now home with his parents, and siblings Carly and Drew. He’s also back in school as a kindergarten student at Jefferson Elementary.

“Drew is such a great kid,” said his teacher, Angie Stemen. “He has really progressed this year and he really helps out in the classroom, and he’s just a fun kid to be around.”

This holiday season, the family will celebrate Luke’s progress, while Luke he is happy about many things. “Most of all that I get to eat at my grandma’s with my cousins and brother and sister,” Luke said, adding “and I’m really thankful I won’t be at the hospital.”

POSTED: 11/29/11 at 6:20 am. FILED UNDER: News