Packers' Grant, a boy with leukemia, and tears

Ryan Grant is admittedly bored out of his mind. In crutches since his ankle surgery in September, he misses his day job -- running past linebackers for the Green Bay Packers.

Ryan Grant is admittedly bored out of his mind. In crutches since his ankle surgery in September, he misses his day job -- running past linebackers for the Green Bay Packers.

So he's checking his e-mail more than usual. And last Friday when he saw one message forwarded to him about an 11-year old Packers fan with an advanced stage of leukemia, he asked his agents to buy a ton of Packers stuff. Then he planned a trip to Milwaukee. For the next day.

"Do you think I can spend some time with him or does it have to be quick?" Grant wanted to know.

The relationship between the Packers and their fans has always been special. Grant was going to make the time and the effort to give this boy a story to share with his friends. A friend of the boy's family, Mark Winters, and Grant, through his agents, began planning a surprise visit.

But this is a story that will break your heart. Because even though there's always a winner every day in the sports pages, there are still unconscionable facts of life that bring us -- even star athletes -- back to reality.


And back to the oncology unit at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin, where the thought of little kids fighting for their lives brings up all kinds of questions of fairness and all kinds of regret about sweating the small stuff. And where Ryan Luxem has spent way too much of his time.

Sweet faced and apple cheeked, Luxem had six healthy years. That's it. A swollen lymph node led to the diagnosis of T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia on May 2, 2006.

He and his parents, Matt and Amy, from Union Grove, have been regulars at Children's ever since. They fought the leukemia with chemotherapy and radiation, but it came back in 2008, 2009 and February of this year. He's had bone marrow transplants. He's endured painful stomach aches and failing kidney function.

But there was a real boy in there -- and not just a hospital patient -- and so Ryan loves dinosaurs, origami and the Green Bay Packers, especially Donald Driver, Aaron Rodgers and of course, Grant.

Winters sent an e-mail for help to boost Ryan's spirits. And while Grant wishes he were giving the Packers another 1,200 yard season, he jumped at the chance to do something. Anything. So as Grant's teammates were busy preparing for the upcoming Vikings game in Minnesota, he took the two hour ride from Green Bay to Wauwatosa, where he was met by his agents from Elite Sports & Public Relations and a bag full of goodies. The Crowne Plaza hotel held a MACC Fund dinner Saturday night and the Luxem family attended. The hotel lent a room to Grant. Winters led Ryan and the family to the room.

Now I have seen a lot of kids light up when a Packer chooses their bike to ride at training camp or when they take the time to crack a joke at Fan Fest. And I have seen almost every one of those kids go tongue tied and shoe shuffled. Ryan Luxem walked in to that hotel room, met Grant, and froze -- his grin as wide as the knit cap that covered his head.

His mom stood a few steps back, smiling, holding her lips, tears ready to spill over, only she looked like she wouldn't allow it because she had to take in every second.

"She hadn't seen him smile so much in a long, long time," said Winters.


Plenty of athletes sign autographs or snap photos and then move on and be done with it. But I know Packers give more when they can. Grant visited with Ryan for more than 90 minutes. First he gave out gifts, which included a No. 25 jersey so big it could fit Brandon Jackson. "Couple of curl ups and you'll fit that in no time," said Grant.

Grant gave him an autographed football by Greg Jennings, a signed photo by Nick Barnett and signed playing cards -- "you might want to sell these on eBay." More gifts. Even a red challenge flag and advice on how to use it on his parents.

Ryan's brother and sister, both younger than him, visited with Grant, as well as Matt and Amy. After a while, Ryan found his nerve and his voice and began sharing about school subjects, friends and big plans.

Everyone left the room with hope. Ryan even expected to attend school on Monday after missing two weeks.

But Monday was miserable.

The tornado that ripped through the area happened to damage the Luxem home. There's debris to be cleared. Matt is also busy setting up jobs, as he works in carpentry and repair and there are other homes that were damaged.

Worse, doctors said a clinical trial chemotherapy drug was not working for Ryan.

"He had blood work done and the results showed that 100% of those cells tested were cancerous," said Winters. "Ryan is being taken off of the drug. That was his last hope at survival. He and the family were asked if they wanted to take another oral chemo drug to try and prolong his life a few more weeks or just let him go.


"Ryan wants to take the chemo, so he was sent home with the oral chemo for now. Matt and Amy are obviously very upset and I'm told that Ryan is really down right now, as you might imagine. He's feeling more sick, as well. Ryan knows he only has a short time to live and that is very scary for a young boy who has been trying to grasp onto hope."

What words should go here? Some message of how we all should be thankful? Some lesson? It's impossible. The Luxems didn't ask for a thing. There's no push for a fundraiser. They are just going through the worst possible nightmare any parent can imagine. And they're so busy right now with their Ryan, their two other young children, the house and tornado and the upcoming holiday.

The family wanted to make sure Grant knew how grateful they were. Thankfully, Grant's agent Stacy Jenson was smart enough to grab the video camera. It's all there, if they ever want to re-visit that small moment when life wasn't so hard.

"It's a great memory for him to have now, and it meant a lot to him and his parents," said Winters. "I know they will cherish Ryan Grant's kindness long after their child is gone."

-- Copyright (c) 2010, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

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