U.S. Army National Guard Capt. Michael Sutton had not even stepped off of the airplane after landing in California when he got a phone call from his wife Ashley delivering devastating news — their son was diagnosed with leukemia.
Sutton, a battalion physician assistant in his 11th year with the National Guard, said he had flown from Fort Bragg to California for pre-deployment training on June 28. During his four-hour flight, his wife had taken their son — Jamaeson Michael Sutton — to Brenner Children’s Hospital for a fever. It was there that she was told that her son, who goes by Maeson, had leukemia. He had just celebrated his third birthday on June 11.
As soon as Sutton landed, he said he texted his wife to tell her he was on the ground. Before he had exited the aircraft, he had talked on the phone with his wife, his father and a pediatric hematology oncologist who relayed the information of the diagnosis. Sutton said he was grateful for the Army chaplain that was on board the plane that offered him support.
“As we were getting off of the plane I was basically losing it and crying,” Sutton said. “I was thousands of miles away and couldn’t hold my son or my wife. I knew there was something seriously wrong and I couldn’t do a single thing about it.”
With the help of the Red Cross and his Army battalion executive officer, Sutton was re-routed back to North Carolina to be with his family. While on his transit back home, he said he had taken the time to learn more about acute lymphoblastic leukemia. He added that his wife was also trying to learn about all of the medications their son needs during different parts of his treatment.
“It seems like this is some crazy dream that we unfortunately keep waking up to,” Michael Sutton said.
Michael Sutton was originally traveling to California for mission Operation Thunder Bang. He was planned to be there for at least three weeks for training, as his brigade has a deployment that is scheduled for later this year. Upon returning to North Carolina, he was told by a person in his battalion that a decision was made to change the mission name to Operation Maeson Resolve so that “all 650 of our soldiers would see his name or hear his name,” Michael Sutton said.
“I’m still crying over it. I can’t even explain it,” Michael Sutton said. “The fact that they were willing to do that in honor of my son, just so they kept him in their thoughts and actions, is pretty amazing.”
The Suttons both grew up in Watauga County but now reside in Lewisville with Maeson and their 6-year-old daughter — Josilynn. Michael Sutton is the son of Jeff Sutton, an optometrist at the Family Eye Care Center in Boone, and Linda Sutton. Ashley Sutton is the daughter of Joseph Miller, the COO of Cheap Joe’s Art Stuff in Boone, and Deborah Miller, an administrative assistant at Austin and Barnes Funeral Home.
“(Our families) dropped everything to come and let us know that we were supported,” Michael Sutton said.
Maeson’s parents could tell that he hadn’t been feeling well. Michael Sutton said he would have fevers that would come and go and various parts of his body that would ache. He added that Maeson had previously had a fall and was wearing a cast for a hidden fracture in his leg. When Ashley Sutton took Maeson to Brenner, doctors removed the cast for blood work and some imaging. This is when it was discovered Maeson had an abnormality in his pelvis, his father said.
It was planned for Maeson to stay in the hospital for at least four days after the diagnosis, with hopes of returning home by July 5. The next month would be what Michael Sutton called the “induction phase” of chemotherapy. Doctors would need to see Maeson at least twice a week for the first 28 days of treatment. He is also supposed to receive steroid treatments twice a day for 28 days.
At the end of the 28 days, Michael Sutton said some testing results should be back and the hematology oncology team would know more specific traits about his son’s leukemia that will help guide further treatment. He said it would likely be at least two years before Maeson would have his chemotherapy port taken out and hopefully would be in remission.
Maeson loves playing outside, getting dirty, running around and climbing on anything he can get his hands on, Michael Sutton said. His dad described him as a rambunctious, silly and sweet kid. The 3-year-old seemed to be responding well to treatment in the first few days after the diagnosis, and the family was now focusing on just trying to get through each day, Michael Sutton said.
Micheal Sutton said the support the family has already gotten so far has been amazing. Ashley Sutton created a Facebook group called Mighty Maeson where the family plans to post updates on their son’s journey. The Facebook page can be found at www.facebook.com/groups/764887440580430/?ref=share.