Stories of Hope
Harry Potter and Tyler Walton, the Boys Who Lived
Article date: December 26, 2001
Harry Potter helped me get through some really hard and scary times. I sometimes think of Harry Potter and me as being kind of alike. He was forced into situations he couldn't control, and had to face an enemy that he didn't know if he could beat. Harry Potter helped me to realize that with the love and support of the people around me, I could get better.
Leukemia Patient Says Harry Potter Changed His Life
Harry Potter, the character made popular in the J.K. Rowling book series, now a major film, is known as the Boy Who Lived, and so is Tyler Walton of Oaklyn, N.J. Harry Potter triumphed over the evil wizard, Voldemort, and Tyler over leukemia. They both fought enemies they couldn't see.
"Harry Potter helped me get through some really hard and scary times," wrote Tyler in an essay explaining how the books had affected him. "I sometimes think of Harry Potter and me as being kind of alike. He was forced into situations he couldn't control, and had to face an enemy that he didn't know if he could beat."
"Harry Potter helped me to realize that with the love and support of the people around me, I could get better," wrote Tyler.
These words helped 10-year-old Tyler become one of 10 national winners in the "How Harry Potter Changed My Life" essay contest [see letter in full at end] held by Scholastic, the publisher of the Harry Potter series.
"My life has not been easy," began Tyler's essay. In 1996 at the age of five, he had some problems walking and complained that his legs hurt. Thinking that it was Lyme disease or arthritis, his parents took him to the doctor.
The Phone Call That Changed a Life
The doctor had some lab work drawn, but the next day, he wanted it done again. Bill and Maureen Walton, Tyler's parents, then suspected it was something more serious. The doctor broke the news, "There's no easy way to tell you this; Tyler has leukemia."
A hospital bed was made ready for Tyler as they spoke on the phone. They were told to pack immediately and report to the hospital.
"This is the phone call that changes your life," said Bill. "You don't have time to absorb the information immediately. You just need to deal with it first and think about it later."
Within several hours, Tyler had a bone marrow aspiration. They were told Tyler had the "good" leukemia, one that is treatable, acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL).
After three-and-one-half years, Tyler was doing very well on his treatment. But in spring of 1999, eight-year-old Tyler had a relapse, and the leukemia came back far worse than before.
Tyler's Disease Accelerates
The disease was full blown in his marrow and central nervous system. Tyler had a stroke, perforated bowel, and fungus in his lungs and his brain. He had total body and head radiation therapy. He didn't walk for almost a year, and didn't eat for almost a year and a half.
Bill became very skilled at tube feeding. He also learned the best way to get a pill down a kid's throat — put the pill in jello, he said. He shared with other parents at the clinic and went home trying new methods from them.
"The cure is vile, and seemed worse than the disease," said Maureen. "There were times when Bill and I asked ourselves, 'are we doing the right thing putting him through this?' It's incredible to know what he suffered and how resilient children can be."
The whole family tested for bone marrow compatibility for a transplant to help Tyler. His sister Molly was three years old at the time of his relapse. Molly was a perfect match. Tyler was in and out of transplant in 17 days. Within five days, they counted new white cells.
With the gift from his sister in January 2000, Tyler could do all the extraordinary things that children normally do, like running and playing, and eating pizza.
The Waltons prescribed large doses of laughter. "Once the crying and anger is over, you have to turn to some other outlet, so humor helps," Bill said. "Tyler had so many scars from biopsies and surgeries, that I told him, 'We'll connect the dots on your chest.' "
Tyler Identifies With Harry Potter
During Tyler's relapse, Bill stayed 24/7 in the hospital, sleeping in a chair near his bed. Maureen visited Tyler daily, and gave Bill a break. Tyler's third-grade teacher had assigned the first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, and Maureen read it aloud.
Getting into bed with Tyler, they snuggled close, and he closed his eyes and listened. It became a special time of bonding, a sacred connection to another world amid the needles, chemo drips, and stark hospital environs.
They would share the adventures of all four books. "We even stalled a little on the last book; we didn't want it to end," sighed Maureen.
Tyler's third-grade class made magic wands, and sent one to Tyler. That year, Tyler only went to school to have his picture taken. He had no hair, so he wore a cap. On that day, all the boys in his class chose to wear baseball caps in his honor.
Last year was Tyler's first year back in school. He's now in fifth grade through the help of a wonderful tutor, Maureen said. All of his classmates look out for him and take care of him.
Childhood cancers often lead to secondary cancer and heart problems, the Waltons understand. "We have started to live in the right now, today. In a lot of bad, good comes out. We received the same concerned outpouring as 9/11," said Bill.
Members of their family, church, community, and school helped give rides, organized and delivered meals, and cut their lawn.
Waltons Live for Today
"We didn't choose to be in this situation," Bill said. "There's no beauty in the disease, but there's opportunity to see the beauty in the daily doings of your life. The greatness is how we choose to deal with it, and how we allow it to change our lives for the better.
"If you can change the way you treat a stranger on the street after this disease, then that's good," he said. "If you don't change, then it's nothing but the horror of the disease."
"People have been very good to us," he said. "My greatest wish for people is to continue that goodness in everyday life, not just because of a tragic situation."
Tyler Meets J.K. Rowling
A local newspaper announced the essay contest. Taking out the papers to recycle, they realized that the deadline was at 5 p.m. that day. So it was now or never. When Tyler finished, Bill raced it to the post office in the nick of time.
Four weeks later in Oct. 2000, the phone rang. Tyler learned he was one of 10 winners out of 10,000 entries. A limo was sent to pick up Maureen and Tyler. A maroon Gryffindor robe was given to Tyler at their hotel. A limo bus took all the winners, aged 8 to 14, to Scholastic where they received their wizard hats. They were featured on the Today Show, and got to talk with J.K. Rowling.
When Rowling signed Tyler's book, Maureen got all choked up, and told her, "You really helped us through very hard times." Rowling got tears in her eyes, and the two mothers hugged, Maureen said.
Rowling whispered to Tyler a secret about Fred and George Weasley that will happen in the fifth book. Tyler beamed with the honor.
"I know I will do fine and so will Harry Potter because good always wins against evil," concluded Tyler, the Boy Who Lived.
Tyler Walton's Contest-winning Essay
My life has not been easy. At the age of five I was diagnosed with leukemia. After 3 1/2 years and with just 3 months left to go on treatment, the leukemia came back. I received my 4 year old little sister's bone marrow in January of this year. Before my transplant, I had to have very strong chemo & radiation to put the leukemia into remission again and to prepare my body for transplant. During this time, I kept up with my 3rd Grade schoolwork. My teacher assigned "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" for the entire class. My dad stayed with me in the hospital and my mom would read it to me everyday when she came to visit.
Harry Potter helped me get through some really hard and scary times. I sometimes think of Harry Potter and me as being kind of alike. He was forced into situations he couldn't control and had to face an enemy that he didn't know if he could beat. Harry Potter helped me to realize that with the love and support of the people around me, I could get better.
I started the 4th Grade this year after being tutored at home for the last school year. I felt like Harry Potter on his first day of Hogwarts — a little excited and a lot scared. Thank goodness my teacher is nice and I don't have Professor Snape or Draco Malfoy to put up with. I know I will do fine and so will Harry Potter because good always wins against evil.