Joey Benton knows the routine with cystic fibrosis – the colds that lead to hospitalizations, the times he has to stop to catch his breath just to carry his book bag down the hall and, worst of all, the things he misses.
He recognized the feeling as soon as it began. He was sick, and if his breathing didn’t improve, he’d have to go to the hospital. But this time, 14-year-old Joey didn’t want to miss out.
Despite losing an entire year’s worth of class to hospitalizations during his middle-school career, Joey worked hard and ranked second in the eighth grade. Set to deliver the salutatory speech at Summerville Catholic School’s graduation, he wanted to make it to that podium.
His father, a registered nurse, promised to get his son there.
“He rarely promises anything, and rarely does he speak in absolutes,” Joey said. “But when he does, he always delivers.”
Cystic fibrosis, a progressive disease, causes thick, sticky mucus buildup in the lungs, digestive tract and other parts of the body, eventually limiting the ability to breathe. To treat infections, Joey checks into the MUSC Children’s Hospital two or three times a year, often for a week or more. He spends days alternating between airway clearance equipment – a vest that shakes his chest and a machine that delivers bursts of air – while receiving intravenous medication.
“I told him I’d make it work,” said Joey Sr., or “Big Joey.”
With graduation set for a Friday evening, Joey went home Thursday night, his father carrying bags and bags of fluids. “Our fridge was full of IVs,” Joey Jr. said. “Very little food, just IVs.”
Joey Sr. administered a new IV through a port in his son’s chest, something Little Joey needed 13 hours of each day for nearly a week. Joey Jr. held the bags of fluid until they released enough medication that he could fit rest of the bag in his pocket. He kept one tucked under his royal blue gown as gave his salutatory address.
“He’s put in so much effort in the hospital, not only to keep up with his studies, but to excel,” his father said. “He was going to make it to graduation. This was going to happen.”
Joey Jr. plans to pursue a career as a computer engineer or programmer. He begins his freshman year at Bishop England High School this fall in accelerated classes, with nearly a year of Advanced Placement credits already behind him. But first, he and his dad celebrated his middle-school accomplishments with tickets to see Jimmy Buffett, another long-awaited plan that they promised to keep.