Today’s post was not easy to write. While it certainly is one of courage and community, it is also a story of fear and great frustration. But on the other side of the most unimaginable heartbreak, the story of Mitchell Thorp and the Mitchell Thorp Foundation, is one of compassion, delivered to countless families over the last 10 or so years, and with the continued support of our community, will undoubtedly continue to do so for many years in the future.
My first exposure to the Mitchell Thorp Foundation was on a sunny, Sunday morning, like many before and many since, at North Coast Calvary Chapel in Carlsbad. Hanging out in the piazza, you just never know who you’ll meet. And every so often you’ll unknowingly be rubbing elbows with everyday heroes. Well that day, I was chatting with a Mitchell Thorp Foundation volunteer, and I learned that the services provided by the Foundation are literal life support for families caring for a critically ill child. But the fact that impacted me the most, and has stuck with me since, is this: the separation and divorce rate for couples caring for a critically ill child is over 78%. This is unbelievable. As if caring for a suffering child isn’t enough, the pressures that go along with that care are often too much for a marriage to withstand. The families, over time, are drained physically, financially and emotionally.
MTF’s founders, Beth and Brad Thorp, have experienced this trauma first-hand. Their son Mitchell began experiencing severe headaches in February 2004, the middle of his 7th grade year. The Thorps sought treatment from multiple doctors, but none could relieve Mitchell’s pain. By the beginning of 8th grade, the headaches were so severe that Mitchell – who held a 4.0 GPA – was unable to concentrate at school and was forced to continue his studies at home. In October 2004, the Thorps checked Mitchell in to San Diego Children’s Hospital for a complete workup of tests – MRI scans, CT scans, blood work, among others. None of which were able to diagnose the source of Mitchell’s debilitating pain.
As a parent, this would be nearly unbearable. Your child is in severe pain, and while you’re doing everything you possibly can, his pain only grows worse.
They explored the possibility of TMJ or a cranial problem (Mitchell had worn braces for 2 ½ years), but several months of treatment had little to no effect. Desperate for answers, they traveled to Florida to consult with the top-rated cranial physician in the country, to no avail. In fact, while they were there, Mitchell began to experience myoclonic seizures, and the Thorps could do nothing but take Mitchell home. His condition was still a mystery, and the severity of his pain only intensified.
June 2005 found the Thorps back in San Diego Children’s Hospital. Mitchell was again subjected to a thorough regimen of tests. Neurologists, psychiatrists, hospital physicians, as well as other medical professionals brought in to consult on the case, were unable to pinpoint the source of Mitchell’s pain.
In July 2005, Mitchell was admitted to the UCLA pain center. At this point, the pain was so intense, the myoclonic seizures and body tremors were constant, and Mitchell spent most of his time unconscious. Of course, Beth and Brad were doing all they could, even taking turns spending the night at the hospital so Mitchell would never be alone. They spent time doing their own research in the UCLA medical library, but as you can imagine, the “unknown” was taking its toll on each of them as well. In a candid conversation I recently had with Brad, he admitted that at times during this season, their marriage was hanging by a thread.
While there was still no concrete diagnosis of Mitchell’s condition, after 30 days at UCLA, they were left with what seemed like no other option, but to take Mitchell home. Upon doing so, they began working with an osteopath and a nutritionist – adjusting Mitchell’s diet – which seemed to reduce the pain and put some much-needed weight on his body.
Over the next couple years, the Thorps continued to look for answers, and saw signs of improvement in Mitchell’s condition. Although some signs were more encouraging than others, eventually he was able to open his eyes, and hold his head up while scooting along the floor. In May of 2006, while still unable to walk or talk, he was able to sit in a wheelchair for about an hour (aided by his parents), while attending a local walk-a-thon – a community fundraiser for the Thorp family.
Not knowing Mitchell, I can’t speculate how his young mind was processing all that he was going through physically. He grew up an active young man whose love for baseball began at the age of five. He played at every opportunity. But at this point in his life, “progress” was being able to hold his head up while scooting across the floor.
Put yourself there, just for a moment. It’s unbearable.
Try not to question, “Why?” It’s impossible.
And yet, this was everyday life for Mitchell and the Thorp family.
In 2008, progress seemed to slow. In February, Mitchell had a prolonged battle with the flu. Unable to keep food down, his weight dropped to a mere 84 pounds. This was critical given his height of nearly 6 feet. In May, Mitchell suffered a seizure, the first in a very long time, and was admitted to the hospital. While there, he underwent many of the same tests administered at UCLA a couple years earlier. Four weeks later, 10 pounds heavier, but still looking for answers, Mitchell was discharged. It wasn’t long after, on November 19, 2008, that “Mitchell Thorp’s strength and courage lead him in a new direction, on a new journey with our Lord…one without pain, burden or uncertainty. He fought for over five years to the very end and left this world on his and the Lord’s terms.”
I’ve read the complete story* multiple times; and every time, coming to the end feels the same – hopeless, empty.
I’m just keeping it real here.
Mitchell’s condition was never diagnosed to a point that it could be treated effectively. And yes, some treatments lessened his pain. And yes, he was able to regain some strength, weight and function during various periods over his five-year battle. But the improvements were temporary, and ultimately, his battle had to end.
OK, so that begs the question, why share this story?
Simply put – the Thorp’s heartache has birthed a vehicle of hope.
Early in 2009, while still adjusting to life without Mitchell, Brad encountered a couple families who were each caring for a critically ill child, and experiencing the same struggles – emotional, physical, logistical, financial – even spiritual. But rather than simply buy a dozen cookies to contribute to the bake-sale fundraiser, Beth and Brad felt a call to do something more.
It was then the Mitchell Thorp Foundation was born – “to support families whose children suffer from life-threatening illnesses, diseases and disorders, by providing financial, emotional, and resource support to their desperate situation.”
In my opinion, this is nothing short of miraculous. Beth and Brad spent five years battling an unknown enemy. An enemy that was relentlessly attacking their child. This prolonged struggle could have easily strained their family to the point of snapping. But that wasn’t to be the case. The Thorps made it through and are quick to acknowledge God’s provision for them along the way.
While caring for Mitchell, the Thorps experienced an outpouring of love and support from the local community, and the MTF was founded to provide the same. In Beth’s words “…when communities of willing and giving hearts come together, miracles DO happen. This has been our experience and the experience of the foundation. Our MTF families do not want pity; they just need a helping hand in a time of crisis. We encourage our families by letting them know they are not alone, and by giving them hope that there are good people, who really care.”
On the other side of heartache, Beth and Brad found a renewed sense of purpose: “to make a difference today for a child fighting for their tomorrow, while bringing hope, relief, and transforming lives in the process.”
I can think of no better way to honor the life and memory of Mitchell Thorp.
Organizations like the Mitchell Thorp Foundation are invaluable to our community. To learn how your Just Bottles and Bags purchase helps support our Community Partners, please check out our Care to Connect donation program.