At noon on Thursday, James and Katie Brown of Eureka picked up a 2006 Dodge Caravan thanks to money donated by citizens of their hometown and a match by Don Kaltschmidt of Don K Chevrolet in Whitefish.
"This whole thing has made us realize what an outstanding community we live in," Katie Brown said.
With a reliable vehicle, the family has assurance that they can get their 5-year-old son Hunter to his cancer chemotherapy treatments in Spokane. Although Angel Flights has given them several trips, they need an alternative in case no flights are available or weather is bad.
According to Katie, their 1993 Chevrolet pickup won't carry their family of five and isn't reliable enough to transport Hunter to his crucial treatments.
"It's good enough to carry our wood, but it's not comfortable," Katie said. "We needed a reliable vehicle."
With times being hard for the family, they had little hope of coming up with the cash on their own.
James Brown remains unemployed after working 15 years in the lumber industry. Katie works at Lucky Lil's Casino in Eureka as a floor runner and bookkeeper. With Hunter's diagnosis of Wilms' tumor, she had to take a leave of absence to tend to her little boy.
"He's absolutely the most important thing," she said. "It's a little iffy when I can go back to work."
Their ordeal started just as they were looking forward to the start of Eureka's Rendezvous Days in early May. Katie remembered that her husband gave Hunter and his brother Tanner, 4, their showers and she pitched in to help them into their pajamas.
"I went to put on Hunter's pajama top ," she said.
With his arms over his head, the skin stretched tightly over his abdomen. She saw a distinct, half egg-shaped bump just below his right ribcage.
It was about two inches in diameter and hardly visible.
"He had to be at just the right angle," Katie said, for the bump to show.
Hunter got in to see James Schmidt, a physician's assistant practicing in Eureka, on May 5. At first he suspected a hernia but soon sent the family to Seattle Children's Hospital.
In Seattle a few days later, the family learned that Hunter had a Wilms' tumor, a cancer of the kidney that strikes about one in 250,000 each year. It primarily affects children most commonly between ages 3 and 4, according to the website MayoClinic.com.
He immediately was scheduled for surgery. Katie called that day the most trying she can recall.
Hunter was wheeled away at 11:45 a.m. for the procedure that lasted about six hours. Katie said they knew it was crucial that the tumor stay intact during the delicate operation to prevent a recurrence.
"They removed the Wilms' tumor and his right kidney - it was encased in the kidney," she said. "With all of our prayers, there were no tears and no drainage. It was a success."
By the time the tumor was removed, it had grown from the size of an egg to a little bigger than a softball, weighing in at just under a pound.
Hunter returned to his parents with a large incision but a great prognosis. With follow-up preventive chemotherapy, Hunter has a 96 to 98 percent chance of a total cure.
According to his physicians, it is crucial that the little boy receive 22 infusions of chemo. Left untreated, the tumor would grow back even with his kidney removed.
At first, the staff wanted the family to stay in Seattle while Hunter took the series of treatments. Due to the family hardship, they switched his treatment site to Sacred Heart Children's Hospital in Spokane to allow weekly commutes.
"If we had to stay in Seattle, we would basically have lost everything," Katie said.
Even with the switch, they faced their unreliable-vehicle dilemma. They rode the train back from Seattle on the first trip which led to the first of what James called "our guardian angel dropping stepping stones in front of us."
Katie was at the train depot in Whitefish when she saw a woman and son waiting inside. Something compelled Katie to walk over and give her a hug.
"She was the wife of an Angel Flight pilot out of the Flathead," Katie said. "In less than five minutes, she said, ‘You guys have to go online and learn about Angel Flights.'"
They discovered that these volunteer private pilots used their planes to transport people who are financially distressed or need a time-critical but not emergency flight for medical treatment. Katie had thought it was only for emergencies.
The family subsequently received several flights, becoming fast friends with the pilots. Because of the weather and scheduling issues for volunteer help, Katie said they knew they needed a backup vehicle to drive when flights weren't available.
Then another guardian-angel intervention conjured up a benefit on June 11. People donated items, then purchased them at a successful silent and live auction in Eureka.
"It was fabulous," Katie said.
With money in hand and the promised match, the couple went online to look at vehicles at Don K. They were very glad to do business with Kaltschmidt.
"That's where we got our truck 13 years ago," she said.
Their white 2006 Dodge Caravan has seats for seven people, allowing them to carry Hunter, Tanner and their 19-year-old daughter Felecia. Katie said the van meets all their needs.
With the generosity of the Eureka community and Don K, she now has the confidence that they can get Hunter to all of his appointments that continue through Oct. 21. She describes his health as stable although he has had a few trips to the emergency room following chemotherapy treatments.
"He's doing great. But you can see he's a cancer child since his hair has started to fall out," Katie said.
She said her son has a huge heart and still thinks of others before himself.
Katie recalled how he picked out a lizard for his first Angel Flight pilot Bill Webber from the "Poke Box" after enduring a needle poke. Hunter wanted the pilot to have company after he dropped them off and flew home.
She said that's typical of their son, who usually keeps his and their spirits up through the difficult journey to a cure.
"He's our super trooper," Katie said.
Reporter Candace Chase may be reached at 758-4436 or by e-mail at email@example.com .
Hunter Brown, 5, crawls around the back seat of his family's 2006 Dodge Caravan at Don K Chevrolet in Whitefish Thursday afternoon.
Hunter Brown, 5, is held by his mother Katie as they wait to be presented their new 2006 Dodge Caravan at Don K Chevrolet in Whitefish Thursday afternoon.