Donovan Stringer of Warren is as articulate of a 9 year old as you’ll find. He’s book smart, well-mannered, he excels at chess, follows politics and cooks for his family. Just ask his mother, who was treated to his shrimp and grits on Mother’s Day.
He’s also a cancer survivor, but that’s far from what defines this young man.
Later this month he’ll represent Akron Children’s in Washington, D.C., as part of a contingent of patients from 30 children’s hospitals around the country. While there, the children will tour the sites and visit Capitol Hill to advocate about issues of importance to children and families like him who have experienced serious health issues and the financial burdens that often accompany them.
“We chose the Stringers because they’re a family whose story needs to be shared to the decision-makers in Congress,” said Charlie Solley, director of government relations, Akron Children’s Hospital.
“Donovan has battled – and beaten – cancer. His family has experienced the high cost of drugs and they’ve benefitted from having access to pediatric physicians. With Donovan telling his story, he’ll put a real, live face to some of the most relevant pediatric healthcare issues we’re facing as a nation.”
Donovan’s story begins on the soccer field. In September 2016, at age 7, he was struck in the stomach with a soccer ball, and after a couple weeks had passed he was still experiencing pain.
When his parents took him to the Emergency Department at Akron Children’s Hospital in Boardman, a CT scan detected a tumor on his liver, unrelated to the soccer incident.
“His soccer injury may have saved his life because it is what led to the discovery of the tumor,” his mother, Lisa Stringer, said. “It was very aggressive. In 2 weeks it went from a mass barely detectable on x-ray to one as big as a soccer ball.”
Doctors transferred him right away to the hospital’s Showers Family Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders on the Akron campus, where he was diagnosed with a rare form of liver cancer that affects just 1% of children with cancer. But thanks to being part of a national children’s hospital network, Akron Children’s had a protocol in place to attack it.
The treatment plan included multiple rounds of chemotherapy, and ultimately a surgical procedure. Doctors prepared the family to expect a 4-hour surgery on the most trying day of their parental lives. The family’s support system included prayers and well-wishes from most everyone in Warren, and 25 friends and family who joined the Stringers in Akron on surgery day.
“We got a call one hour in, and I was scared to answer the phone,” Lisa Stringer said. “But thankfully it was good news. They were able to get the tumor out clean.”
“It was a miracle, it really was,” Kevin Stringer, Donovan’s father, said.
All along, Donovan remained strong. And brave.
“This was one of the most terrifying things a parent can face, and what impressed me was how doctors addressed Donovan when they would come in the room. They recognized it was Donovan, not us, who had the cancer,” Kevin Stringer said. “From the doctors and nurses to the parking lot attendants and those who cleaned the room, they all had the same compassion.”
Donovan just finished his third grade year at McGuffy Elementary School and maintains a straight-A average. Inspired by his story, his community raised money to fund a scholarship in his honor that each year will be given to a student who displays Donovan’s strength and character.
While in Washington, Solley said Donovan will learn about advocacy, attend a celebratory dinner, and meet his Congressmen and Senators to tell them his story.
Solley said one policy focus of the trip is to preserve funding for the Children’s Hospital Graduate Medical Education program, of which Akron Children’s participates. The program helps underwrite costs of training future pediatricians to help ensure patient access.
Another focus is to support the 340B drug discount program, which requires pharmaceutical companies to provide charitable institutions a deep discount on certain outpatient drugs. This program, Solley said, helps non-profit hospitals like Akron Children’s expand their mission.
Finally, Solley said another global issue they’ll be advocating for is preserving Medicaid for the kids Akron Children’s serves.
“For kids, Medicaid is not welfare,” he said. “If we believe kids are our future, Medicaid is key to keeping children healthy, in school and on track to reaching their potential.”
Look for a recap article of Donovan’s trip to Washington recounting the memories he made on his trip once he returns.