Channeling grief into grace

Family of boy lost to brain tumor raising awareness, funds for cause
Jun. 12, 2014 @ 04:58 AM

SANFORD — John Ryan Parker was just under 9 months old when doctors found a glioblastoma, a fast-growing malignant tumor, in his brain. He died shortly after, but his memory will live on in the participants of the Rogue Alpha Rush 5K mud run to benefit the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation.

John Ryan and his parents, Monique Horton and Madison Parker, will be the sponsored family of the event, part obstacle course and part race, which will start at 9 a.m. Saturday at 5184 Saint Andrews Church Road in Sanford. The proceeds of the event will go to the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation.

"We tried to turn our grief into work," said Donna Parker, John Ryan's grandmother. "We have started the John Ryan Parker Foundation. If we can raise $25,000 for the North Carolina Children's Hospital in Chapel Hill, they will actually name the research fund after John Ryan."

Rogue Alpha Rush, a local organization, aims to help the Parker family reach its goal.

"They wanted to support us in our efforts to find a cure," Parker said. "We're hoping everyone comes out for the mud run. It's going to be a lot of fun."

'Born with a purpose'

Parker still recalls the day John Ryan fell ill.

"He started throwing up on a Monday," she said. "He had been fine on Sunday. They took him to Cape Fear Valley Hospital in Fayetteville and were told he had an ear infection."

Later that night, when the family returned home, John Ryan began having seizures. Parker said they called 911 and rushed to Betsy Johnson Hospital in Dunn, where a CT scan revealed the tumor. John Ryan was put on life support, but doctors told the family he would not make it.

"After the first test, they started talking about organ donation," Parker recalls. "At first, Madison and Monique both said no. Then Madison kept walking by those babies in the [Pediatric Intensive Care Unit]. He said they had the chance to save somebody else from what we were going through."

Parker said John Ryan's heart now is beating in Florida and his pancreas, intestines and liver are keeping a 3-year-old happy and healthy somewhere in North Carolina.

"At this point, we know as a family that he was born with a purpose," Parker said. "He was born to save these babies. 99 percent of babies under the age of 2 who need organ transplants die."

Go rogue

On its website, Rogue Alpha Rush challenges participants to "go Rogue" by becoming leaders in their communities and instilling positive values, morals and initiative in the people they meet.

Parker said she is grateful that Rogue Alpha Rush contacted her about supporting the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation, the largest non-governmental funder of childhood brain tumor research in the world.

"I don't think there's a whole lot of awareness about pediatric brain tumors," Parker said. "I don't know that there's going to be a cure for it any time soon. But, is there a way to detect it earlier? Because we didn't have a chance."

The mud run comes after a car show the John Ryan Parker Foundation put on in May. Parker said a golf tournament is scheduled for June 21 at the Carolina Lakes Golf Club in Sanford as well. She said that will be the last event the foundation will host until the fall.

Parker said the timing of the mud run is meaningful to the family, as John Ryan's birthday was June 12.

"His birthday is Thursday," Parker said. "He would be 1 on Thursday. That's going to be a hard day. We're just going to support him while he supports us."

Pre-registration for the race is closed, but those interested can register on the day of the race for $80. For directions to the race, visit