The doctor’s prognosis would make any parent’s heart weep: the two young brothers didn’t have a prayer. A routine surgery had gone awry.
“At that time, if you got tonsillitis, you’d take out your tonsils,” Rand Akins of Kennewick said about the childhood surgery back in 1952. “I remember the doctor laying me down on the examination table. And then he took a cloth and poured something out of a bottle and put it on my face and I went to sleep.”
Rand and his brother, Clark, lived in Athena, Ore., just down the road from Milton-Freewater, where their family doctor removed both boys’ tonsils in his office. They’d be back home in no time with an adventure to tell.
“I woke up and I heard Clark saying, ‘Can I see my tonsils?’ and then I said I wanted to see mine,” Rand said, remembering how their mom and dad had lifted the brothers off the exam table to take a peek at the container. “The doctor opened it and here were these big bloody blobs. It didn’t impress me.”
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With their curiosity satisfied, the family drove home, promises of ice cream soothing the weary brothers. Rand, 4, and Clark, 6, planned to entertain their playmates in a few days with the gory details.
But then something went wrong.
“My parents put us to bed, and the next morning they couldn’t wake us up,” Rand said, his voice softening at the memory.
The frantic parents called their longtime physician, who promised to meet them at the hospital in Walla Walla.
“I don’t remember anything from the time I went to bed that night, but they were giving us transfusions as soon as we got there,” Rand said, repeating what he had heard about the donated blood and how the two comatose boys received it for three days.
Even so, there was no improvement and, regrettably, the hospital had run out of plasma, Rand said.
“The only thing the doctors knew what to do was to have our parents get on the table next to us with a line directly from them to us,” Rand said, remembering how each parent was a perfect match for the two boys’ different blood types.
But the bleeding from the tonsillectomy wounds continued through the long hours, and it became apparent the blood draw from their depleted mother and father could not continue. Nor, Rand said, could the doctors go on with the futile transfusions from other resources.
The situation was desperate.
“The doctors came in late on the fourth day and told my parents to go home and shower and get clean clothes,” Rand said, recalling how his mom and dad had never left their sons’ bedsides.
As the discouraged couple readied to leave their unconscious boys, the medical staff gave a chilling forecast; “There’s a likelihood the boys won’t make it through the night.”
Weary and devastated at the news, the couple rushed home, driving through their hometown of about 930 people, a place where neighbors are close. When a friend saw the Akins car passing by without Rand and Clark, a phone call followed.
Faced with the grim prognosis, this same friend contacted the minister at the family’s church, the Akins unaware of the phone call. The pastor then called each church member personally, telephoning the other two churches in town as well.
“He said, ‘I’m not just asking for prayer. I’m asking you to come to our church and pray with us for these boys,’ ” Rand said, recalling the plea that flooded the phone lines. “Pastor said, ‘This could be their last night and we’d like you to stay all night.’ ”
The congregants from various denominations hoped for a miracle. So when they came to the church one by one, they didn’t just say a prayer and then dash out the door.
“My mom told me later that practically everybody in town came, and they all stayed,” Rand said, his voice mirroring emotion.
After the long darkness, the morning light brought hope. The bleeding had stopped and color had returned to their tiny faces.
“When we came to, I remember our pastor, Paul Moore, standing at the foot of our beds, and he had brought two ceramic planters from a missionary in Africa,” Rand said, reflecting on how the minister was most likely at a loss for a gift for two little children. “It wasn’t something I wanted as a young boy, but we have loved them and hung onto them all these years.”
The details of the surgery’s aftermath and how very near both sons came to dying was held close by their parents for years. In the 1950s, the doctors had treated the boys with everything known to science at the time. Follow-up tests at the University of Oregon pointed to parahemophilia, a milder form of the disease that put limitations on their sons’ lives.
“I wanted to play tackle football, but my dad came and watched and he saw the danger and said no,” Rand said, recalling how all sports activities were curbed. “I played high school basketball and I’d get huge bruises and have to sit out each year because of it. Then I played baseball and was injured sliding into home plate — my worst. The doctor said I’d better pad up if I was going to play.”
Rand did go on to play baseball for Blue Mountain Community College and also a semi-pro team. But resentment festered because of the parahemophilia and what he had to deal with constantly.
“When my mom finally told me the story, it was after a period of years of not going to church and binge drinking in my teen years,” Rand said quietly about his rebellion and a college English assignment that ultimately prompted his parent’s revelation. “All those years wanting to play contact sports like other kids, and wanting to know why God had given me this.”
But learning how his life had been miraculously spared changed Rand’s attitude, bringing him back to his childhood faith.
“My dependence on God is more than if it hadn’t happened to me,” Rand acknowledged thoughtfully. “It has actually made me thankful for a hereditary condition.”
Now a man with a grateful heart where once upon a time there was a little boy without a prayer.
Lucy Luginbill: 509-551-2191, @LucyLuginbill