Titus Sickles is the second youngest of five boys. All two years apart, the brothers have nearly identical buzz cut blond hair, freckles and blue-green eyes, strongly resembling their mother.
On Tuesday morning, in the warm shade at the playground in Kemp Olson Memorial Park in their hometown of Toledo, the five sported Seahawks gear and played, tumbling through the equipment and wrestling on the wood chips.
Titus is 4 years old, set to turn 5 in January. After that, his outlook is less certain.
Born in 2018 with a severe congenital heart defect, Titus received a heart transplant at just 12 weeks old.
Doctors thought when Titus was born, they’d be able to repair the defect, according to his mom, Rena Kreis. Instead, he quickly went into end-stage heart failure. The donor heart saved his life.
Since then, Titus and his parents have gone in for annual biopsy check-ups every year.
“(The heart) is perfectly, perfectly healthy,” Kreis said. “It’s like his body has acted as if that heart is his heart. But this year, when we went in … they pulled us into a conference room where they expect parents to break down because they have less-than-favorable news.”
Doctors told them there is a problem with Titus’ coronary arteries that is typically seen in transplant patients decades, rather than years, down the line.
The physicians aren’t sure what caused the problem to show up early in Titus’ heart, but they are sure it will eventually block his arteries and prevent blood flow to the heart.
There’s no treatment or cure.
“It was really hard to even process,” Kreis said through tears. “Nobody wants to prepare for their worst nightmare of losing a child.”
The family is now staring down a gut-wrenching prognosis. Statistically, 13% of patients in Titus’ condition are alive two years later.
It took the parents several months of processing before they were ready to announce the bad news to friends and family. Now, they’ve decided to make the next chapter of Titus’ life a celebration. Rather than a bucket list, Kreis has created what she’s calling “Titus’ Live Life List,” to honor their son, who she said is in good spirits despite his pain.
“He's really special. He touches lives all the time. I really just want to give him everything that he deserves. Ideally, that would be a really long life. And I'm believing for that, I’m really believing for a miracle. It's a miracle that he's even here today,” she said. “But in the instance that God has a different plan for him, I want to make sure we enjoy every single moment and have those memories to cherish forever.”
The family has sprung into action on the list, attending a Tacoma Rainiers game and visiting the Seahawks, where they were given shirts and signed footballs. Titus got to ride in the Winlock egg float during the Egg Day parade and recently went fishing for the first time.
On Oct. 23, Gemini Events will host a Nerf war at Fort Borst Park for Titus and his family beginning at noon. All are welcome and attendees must bring their own Nerf weapons.
If costs and Titus’ health allows, Kreis said the parents and their boys will be visiting family in Arizona in the coming months. Due to Titus’ compromised immune system, she said, flying on a plane is just one of the many things he has yet to do.
Asked what, if anything, she would want from community members, Kreis paused to think for a moment before saying, “Prayers for a miracle. I would also want people to, I know it sounds cliche but, to hug their babies tight. Enjoy the moment. Actually slow down and just enjoy it.”
To donate toward the family achieving the goals on Titus’ wishlist, visit GoFundMe at https://gofund.me/39eeaa4d. Kreis also said if possible, the parents would prefer donations through Paypal at paypal.me/AndrewSickles or Venmo at @Rena-Sickles because neither platform takes a percentage of the donation as GoFundMe does.