An oasis grows out of tragedy

March 20, 1994|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Sun Staff Writer

Two years ago, 6-year-old Lucas Scott Livingston of Columbia used to play Pac-Man, pretending he was maneuvering around the maze himself, devouring the gremlins that were making him sick.

But Lucas died May 19, 1992, after a five-month battle with leukemia and an unsuccessful attempt to replace his bone marrow with some of his father's at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

His video game set and other toys will soon be helping in other battles, however.

On Friday, his family gathered at the Tremont Plaza Hotel in Baltimore to dedicate the Lucas Scott Livingston Memorial Suite, a place to bring comfort to out-of-town families whose children are being treated at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center.

"For families of limited financial ability, this really is an oasis in the desert for all that they're going through," said Dr. Jerry Reardon, director of Patient and Family Services at Johns Hopkins Children's Center.

The center operates its own Children's House, but its 15 rooms, which cost $15 a night, are often full, Dr. Reardon said. Many families cannot afford area hotel rooms costing a minimum of $55 a night, he added.

The children's center is internationally known for bone marrow transplant treatment, which involves between two months and three months in the hospital and up to 100 days of follow-up visits.

The suite includes photographs of Lucas and many of his belongings, such as a wind-up, four-wheel-drive truck and a set of cellophane-wrapped stick-on dinosaur pictures that the kindergarten student never had a chance to open.

"He took with him our dreams for his future, but he left behind the memory of the purest love, given and received, that we have ever known," said his father, Dr. Gordon Livingston.

To help save money for financially strapped parents and make the suite more homey, the suite has a kitchen equipped with a washer, dryer and other donated appliances.

Dr. Livingston, chief of psychiatry at the Columbia Medical Plan, Lucas' mother, Claire King, and his sister, Emily, 13, have spent the last six months decorating and outfitting the suite. Among about 20 corporate and institutional contributors were several Columbia Mall merchants, such as Scan and the Bombay Co., which contributed furnishings.

So far, the family has raised about $120,000 -- a third from about 300 individual contributors -- to provide the room free, primarily to families whose children are being treated for cancer at Johns Hopkins.

Although the family needs between $150,000 and $200,000 to begin a perpetual endowment to provide the room year-round, they have decided to use some of the money to open it now for eight months a year.

Dr. Livingston said he hopes to raise more money with a benefit by humorist Art Buchwald, speaking on "Humor and Medicine." He will be introduced by Washington Post Vice President Ben Bradlee at 7:30 p.m. May 17 at Johns Hopkins University's Shriver Hall.

Christopher and Debbie Smith, whose family owns the Tremont, dedicated a similar suite in the hotel in 1990 in memory of a young relative who died after a bone marrow transplant.

Although the Livingston-King family lives in the Stevens Forest neighborhood of Oakland Mills Village, the family members had a short stay at the hotel themselves after Lucas' death.

"It was a refuge where we were cared for by an attentive hotel staff as we gathered ourselves to resume our lives," Dr. Livingston said. "We are grateful beyond words for the time to begin to heal in this comforting place."

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