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Family & Sport Chiropractic supports Make-a-Wish Foundation

Serving a higher cause
Chandler Johnson, of North Liberty, enjoys a trip to Hawaii granted by the Make-a-Wish Foundation. The teen was granted his wish following surgery for a brain and spinal tumor. Dr. Mohamed Karim and Angela Bell (Johnson’s mother) of Family & Sport Chiropractic were motivated by the experience to support Make-a-Wish on a local level through upcoming fundraisers, drawings and office specials including a $40 first exam special through the month of February. (Photo courtesy of Angela Bell.)

NORTH LIBERTY– Standing at over 6 feet tall and weighing 250 pounds, 13-year-old Chandler Johnson, of North Liberty, stood out among his peers.
Johnson, who wears a size 17 shoe, had a history of peculiar motor skills dating back to the age of 3, noted by his various athletics coaches over the years. But it was never diagnosed as anything of serious concern.
“We never missed a doctor’s appointment, never missed a sports physical and nobody suspected there was anything wrong,” said Johnson’s mother Angela Bell. “They just said he was clumsy because he’s at that age and he’s large.”
But in the fall of 2016, when Dr. Mohamed Karim examined the boy at his chiropractic office, in North Liberty, he suspected the lack of coordination was symptomatic of something far worse.
“Just by doing my exam and seeing the way he walked and reacted, I knew something wasn’t right,” observed the chiropractor.
But the boy’s mother wasn’t convinced.
“I actually got really angry at (Dr. Karim) because he’s been that way, always, and it was frustrating,” admitted Bell, who serves as assistant to Dr. Karim at Family & Sport Chiropractic.
It wasn’t until the young Solon Spartan lost grip of his free weights during a football training session that Bell was contacted by a concerned coach, prompting another visit to Dr. Karim.
As Bell watched her son’s exam, Karim withheld the full gravity of his concerns, simply insisting she take her son to a pediatrician as soon as possible.
“She called back later in the evening and said, ‘We want to get Chandler in for an MRI right away,’” recalled Bell of the next-day pediatric visit.
Following an MRI at the Corridor Radiology, a phone call confirmed their worse fears.
“I’m sorry, I don’t know what to tell you,” the doctor began. “It’s bad.”
On Feb. 23, 2017, Johnson was diagnosed with a brain and spinal tumor.
In what would normally take a three-month wait, the teen was immediately sent to renowned neurosurgeon Dr. Arnold Menezes and was in the operating room five days later.
“They took a biopsy of his tumor, took out pieces of his vertebrae to relieve pressure that was preventing fluid from flowing to his brain, and they pretty much closed him up because there wasn’t anything they could do,” explained Bell.
Doctors reported two blocked arteries, with mobility in 70 percent of his left side and only 30 percent of his right side.
“He never said he was hurting, never said he was having problems. And apparently, a lot of kids do that,” said Bell. “They get scared; they don’t know what’s going happen to them, so they don’t say anything.”
The non-cancerous but aggressive tumor intertwined in his spinal chord and brain stem, Johnson remained in the hospital for just over a month, enduring 30 rounds of radiation, as well as physical and occupational therapy. He would require MRIs every three months following the procedure.
“He was worse case scenario, and it was basically, ‘We don’t know how your son is still alive at this point, let alone living through a surgery and recovery time,’” his mother said.
“He had an optimistic 40 percent chance of making it through.”
But trying circumstances can often inspire one to serve a higher cause, as was the case for Johnson’s mother.
“While we were in the hospital and he was still pretty unconscious, we were told we were granted a wish,” she noted.
The Make-a-Wish Foundation, established in 1980, is a non-profit organization that arranges experiences for children with life-threatening medical conditions. In late October 2017, Johnson was granted his wish: a trip to Hawaii.
“He wanted to see all the hula girls while all his friends were in school. His Instagram was blowing up that week,” Bell laughed.
Johnson’s mother said the vacation offered the family relief following the turbulence of his recovery and radiation treatments.
“It gives you something to remember when the time comes that you’re not going to have your child with you anymore,” she said.
For Bell and Dr. Karim, the trying experience made supporting Make-A-Wish the obvious choice.
“I can definitely say they’re one of the positives that’s come with what happened to my son,” she remarked. “I know that there’s something out there that’s bigger than me, that’s bigger than us, and we’re here for each other. So that’s kind of what we wanted to go on– you have to give to get.”
Currently, Family & Sport Chiropractic has a goal of $10,000 to grant their first wish as they invite the local community to join their cause.
“Ten thousand dollars is the low end of what you need to grant a wish for a child. That’s a very basic wish, so we’re hoping we can get more,” Bell said.
“You don’t get to be a part of something so big very often in your life, and it really does change you in ways that you didn’t know you needed changed.”
Bell insists Family & Sport Chiropractic wants to make it an ongoing effort of granting wishes and meeting the kids they’ve helped offer comfort. To further their cause, the North Liberty practice began a special in February: new patients receive their first exam including x-rays, physiotherapy and adjustment for just $40 (normally an estimated $200 value) with all proceeds going toward Make-a-Wish Foundation. Each time a patient visits, they’re also entered to win a flat-screen television or a four-month bronze massage membership package, with the option of either two 30-minute massages a month or one one-hour massage per month.
On June 1, Family & Sport Chiropractic also plans to hold an open house fundraiser to benefit the charity. This will include a silent auction, raffle prizes, chair massages and free spinal scans along with hors d’oeuvres and local selections of wine and craft beer.
“One hundred percent of that goes toward our project,” Bell said, adding they also plan to host movie nights with free hot dogs and popcorn during the summer.
Dr. Karim, who serves on the Johnson County Metro Dive Team and as an EMT for the Coralville Fire Department, plans to rally their involvement, in addition to representatives of Make-a-Wish, on future events.
“He really dived into it with both feet and said, ‘Let’s make it really big,’” Bell remarked.
“We’ve already contacted a lot of our patients who work within the community, and we’re hoping to make it a very big deal, that everybody knows we’re doing this and they want to come to our events,” she added.
The North Liberty practice, now in its fifth year in business, hopes its efforts will provide the same comfort to other children in the community as Bell’s son was able to receive.
While Johnson’s mother describes his new life as “pretty much one big restriction,” which keeps him from playing sports and going on class trips, she points out the current circumstances defy his once dire prognosis.
“He’s kind of like a walking miracle,” she said. “So we got to keep him, at least for now.”
Today, Johnson and his siblings still receive care from Dr. Karim. Looking back, Bell sees the last few years as further evidence of Karim’s compassion and perceptive talent, crediting him as instrumental in her son’s well being.
“This is not a typical doctor. When you come here, you get people who care, people who listen to you, people who want to make you feel better,” she insisted.
“And you never know, it could save your life.”