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December 17: Julie Locke
After Julie Locke’s infant son Dax was diagnosed with cancer, she spent a year helping him fight it at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. When Dax’s doctors told her he wouldn't live to see Christmas, she decided to decorate for the holiday two months early. When his story appeared on CNN, thousands of people around the world put up holiday lights for Dax. Julie is now working to raise $1.6 million to run the hospital for a day in Dax's honor.
Julie Locke grew up in a house of five girls with a divorced mother in Washburn, Illinois, a very small country town. She moved to the city after graduating from high school; there she joined a volleyball team at a health club, where she met her husband, Austin. Although they were both young, she knew he was the one. They had their first baby, Dax, when Julie was 23.
Two weeks after Dax was born, they bought a lovely home and began their lives together as a family. Life was pretty normal until Dax began getting chronic ear infections that wouldn't clear up and his eyes started to get infected. Dax quickly became very lethargic and was admitted to the hospital. Julie remembers the doctor saying he was just dehydrated from the fevers, but after being given liquids later, Dax was still not waking up. He was moved across the street to another hospital, where they found a huge mass in Dax’s head.
Dax was then taken to a hospital in Iowa to biopsy the mass, and within a week he was diagnosed with a very severe type of cancer called AML M7. The doctors there offered him treatment, but when Julie couldn't get them to even look her in the eye, she decided to take Dax to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Within a day, Dax's central line was placed and he received his first round of chemotherapy. His doctor sat with the Locke family for hours discussing every step and answering hard questions, even giving them his personal phone number. The day Dax began treatment, Julie was visited by Michelle, whose daughter Elizabeth had the same disease as Dax and had already been at the hospital for six months. The community at St. Jude, and Michelle especially, brought much comfort to Julie and Austin. When Dax's cancer never fully went away, the next step was a bone marrow transplant. Dax was too young to receive a donor from the National Registry, so Julie was the donor and happy to be able to help Dax. The gathering of cells took about 16 hours, and her pain was controlled with morphine. Although the risks of transplant were severe, nothing was worse than not having Dax.
Dax’s first transplant went smoothly, and he hardly got ill. By this time Dax had been an in-patient for over a month, and was ready to go outside and get some fresh air. Unfortunately, the transplant didn’t work, so Dax's doctors tried delivering radiation through his eyes to the spot in his head to test if that was where the cancer was generating from, and Dax was sedated every day for two weeks. At the end of the treatment Dax got a bad rash, and the cancer didn't go away. Meanwhile, two children at St. Jude had passed away.
Dax needed to have another treatment, but he was in extreme pain and his parents were hardly able to change his diaper or even hold him. Austin donated his cells for the second transplant, and afterward the Lockes were finally able to bring Dax home. He still needed the care of doctors at a local clinic affiliated with St. Jude. Dax couldn’t walk very long, but his favorite thing to do was dance, so his parents danced with him all the time, sometimes even in the middle of the night.
Dax's cancer returned, and the Lockes were told he wouldn't make it till Christmas. Wanting to give Dax one more Christmas, Julie and her husband decorated their house with holiday lights two months early. Soon their neighbors caught on and also decorated their houses until the whole town was decorated. Julie wanted to support St. Jude and the patients' families, so she talked to the local newspaper, and the Lockes’ story quickly spread throughout the media and was featured on CNN.
As the story touched families across the country, thousands of people put up Christmas lights for Dax and hundreds sent presents, which covered the Lockes’ front porch. Dax made it through Christmas but died on December 30, 2009. Shortly after, Julie decided to start a foundation called Cherish Every Moment: The Dax Locke Foundation, where all proceeds go to the families and children of St. Jude. Julie’s goal is to raise $1.6 million, which would run St. Jude for a day in Dax’s honor, and currently she has raised nearly $250,000.
Months passed after Dax’s death, and Julie got pregnant again and had a daughter named Madeline Elizabeth Locke on October 28, 2010. Julie can’t wait for the day that she can tell Madeline about her big brother Dax.
Dax is one of thousands of children who come to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital for treatment. St. Jude is one of the world’s premier pediatric cancer research centers, treating children from across the nation and around the world. Its mission is to find cures for children with cancer and other deadly diseases through research and treatment. And, at St. Jude no child is ever denied treatment because of the family’s inability to pay.