Home sweet home

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 28, 2006

It made you laugh. It made you cry. It made you shout.

Although it may seem like a movie review, this was a real-life event.

After being diagnosed with Crigler-Najjar Syndrome Type I, an extremely rare and life threatening disease, at the tender age of 13 months, Evan Spence had spent the last 16 years of his life on a rollercoaster of random sickness and feel good times.

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When the Spence family found out the only way to help Evan out of what seemed to be a downward spiral of health was a liver

transplant, they put his name on the list and prayed for the best.

On June 22, less than a week after adding his name to the list of thousands who need liver transplants, Evan and his family was flown to Childrens’ Hospital of Pittsburgh for immediate surgery.

A month and seven days later, Evan is back in Demopolis where he laid his head to the pillow in his own bedroom for the first time in weeks Friday night.

It’s unreal to everyone who knew Evans story since he wasn’t expected to be home until September, but it’s a blessing all the same.

“I don’t even care about the heat,” Evan said about the humid Alabama weather, “I am just happy to be back home. I feel fine except for the jet lag, but I didn’t expect to be back this early.”

As they drove around the corner to the Lake Lane residents where Evan’s friends were awaiting his arrival, Stuart Spence, Evan’s father, honked the horn.

His mother, Joan, jumped out the passenger seat with tears in her eyes at the sight of her son’s friends, family and neighbors there to welcome him home.

“Of everything, I think he missed being away from his friends the most,” Stuart said. “And he hated the drivers in Pittsburgh.”

“Yesterday we went in for a check up and the doctor said his numbers looked great so he took him off a few pills,” Evan’s mother Joan said. “Then he looked at Evan and said ‘How would you like to go home?’ We looked at him, he told us there were no signs of rejection

and that Evan could go home so Stuart ran down the hallway to get the first flight back home.”

“We were still thinking we weren’t going to be home until the first or second week in August,” Stuart said. “We just have to get through this period and watch for any signs of rejection.”

But his genetic family wasn’t the only ones awaiting the moment Evan came back home.

So were his girlfriend Samantha Pratt and her mother and father.

“It’s a big difference from when I went up there the first time. He was kind of depressed and he didn’t want to do much. But this past week, all he wanted to do was get out,” Samantha said about her numerous visits to Pittsburgh. “I was scared nervous and excited when he got the first call, but I am happy to have him back. It’s better than having to drive or fly all the way up there.”

And after dating Evan for almost a year, she wasn’t the only one that was used to having him around.

The living felt empty to Samantha’s parents who were used to having Evan sit there eating all the candy out of the candy dish.

“The first thing he did every time he walked in the house was go to the candy dish and that’s the first thing he did when he got back,” Samantha’s mother Diane Lewis said. “I sent him a whole bag of M&M’s and he wouldn’t touch them because they weren’t from my candy dish. But if feels good to have him back. He’s a good kid. Now, my daughter doesn’t have to call Pittsburgh every night.”

Since he made it back before the school year, that gives him plenty of time to prepare for Demopolis High School’s football season because his principal has big plans for him.

“He looks good and he is truly fortunate to be doing as well as he is,” Espy said. “I had talked to them about two weeks ago and honestly, I wasn’t thinking him being back by Thanksgiving would be doing good. But now, I am ready to see him and his guitar in the stands on Friday nights.”

After being greeted by approximately 30 of his friends at his girlfriend’s house, Evan ate his first meal in Alabama in a month. Next on his list is to catch up on his music.

“I want to hang out and play,” he said as he looked at Josh Julian, Justin Midgorden, Jonathon Strickland, Preston Ruddell and John Haisty, who make up Eliza Burning, “hopefully tonight.”

Even though he was away from his friends and family for a while, things weren’t all bad for Evan. While in Pittsburgh, he received autographs from both Hank Williams Jr. and George Thurgood.

Although he can go back to his regular diet, the 16-year old must stay away from grapefruit and bananas. He cannot take part in any strenuous activities, but he can resume to his normal routine.

Evan must continue to go for regular checkups in order to make sure there are no signs of rejection and he still has a “T-tube” in his liver. But that’s just a war wound for this young soldier.

He did, however, enjoy showing it off like one to all his friends.