Health challenges don’t dim this boy’s optimism

Eric Piburn’s cheerful demeanor and active nature are not what one would typically expect from someone who has lived the bulk of his life — in and out of hospitals.

Though he’s a lively 12-year-old who enjoys running, jumping and playing with toys — he was born with two congenital heart defects.

Physicians did not expect him to live beyond infancy.

Eric spent his first three years living at All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg,  unable to walk or talk.

Eric Piburn loves to show off his race car track, one of his many toy collections. Despite health complications, the 12-year-old enjoys keeping active and having fun. (Brian Fernandes)

“When we first brought Eric home, my husband and I were terrified,” his mother, Randi Piburn, recalled.

Randi and her husband, Dave, already were caring for Eric’s older sister Alex — who also had congenital heart defects, although Eric’s were more severe.

He lived longer than expected, and his health complications have increased, over time.

His body could not properly break down sugars and starches, and he began to suffer from acute renal failure.

He has breathing difficulties, too, requiring the use of an oxygen mask and tank at all times.

He has survived four open heart surgeries.

His mother prepares his daily medication involving fluid and syringes. They both know the drill.

“This is his norm,” Randi said.

“Wearing oxygen is not an issue for him. Being on breathing treatments is not an issue for him,” she added.

Eric also must wear a backpack that pumps his medication into his chest through a tube, and his nutrition follows a daily regimen, too.

He drinks most of his water in the morning. He eats pureed food in the afternoon and evening.

He samples solid food, on rare occasions, but when he does, the portion is only about half the size of a grain of rice, Randi said.

Still, it’s  a long way from the days of a liquid-only diet passed through a feeding tube into Eric’s intestines.

Years of medical treatment have inspired Eric to desire a career as a cardiologist – like the one who looks after him.

“When I grow up, I want to be just like him so I can work on surgeries, do appointments and check-ups,” he said.

He has spent much of his life being treated at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa, which has led to developing friendships with the hospital’s staff.

Birthday party will raise money for expenses
Randi, a former respiratory therapist, gave up her job to care for Alex.

Dave is a full-time nurse.

Finances are challenging for the Wesley Chapel family.

“When you don’t know if you can pay your bill, it’s really scary,” Randi said.

“It’s hard to just buy groceries half the time.”

On top of that are the costs of medications, medical equipment and medical supplies.

An oxygen tank, for example, lasts only a week.

Plus, Eric has been denied for certain health benefits and doesn’t qualify for government assistance.

Dave’s employer covers some expenses, but not others.

Throughout the trials, though, Randi said she’s learned valuable lessons.

“I am giving the best world I can to him (Eric). He is then, in turn, giving back to me love, joy, [and] compassion that he shows people,” she said.

For instance, Eric’s party on Feb. 3 exemplifies his caring spirit, she said.

His birthday was in December, but he wants to have a party so the community can join in.

Eric said the party is for other kids, as much as it is for him.

He empathizes with the challenges that other kids face with health issues.

Going to the hospital can be scary, he said, but he reassures other kids that the staff is there to help them get well.

“As soon as you feel better, the sooner you can go outside, run, play, swing, have fun and be a kid,” Eric said.

And, despite continuing challenges, Eric remains optimistic: “It’s a tough nut to crack, but I’m sure I can crack it in a snap.”

The party will help pay for his medical expenses, but the home-schooled boy sees other benefits, too.

“First of all, I want to be kind to the world and, second, I like presents,” he said.

Eric’s Birthday Party
Where: Old McMicky’s Farm, 9612 Crescent Drive in Odessa
When: Feb. 3 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Cost: $10 per ticket for those ages 2 and up
Details: Eric Piburn is inviting the community to celebrate his most recent birthday. There will be pizza, drinks, activities and a visit from superhero characters.
Info: Email moc.l1571127249iamg@1571127249yaBap1571127249maT.e1571127249MhtiW1571127249reetn1571127249uloV1571127249. Tickets can be purchased online at tinyurl.com/yarpcmna.

Published January 30, 2019

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