ATLANTA (AP) – When Tamara and Jackie Stapleton learned that 3-year-old Jack Williamson had cancer, they chipped in to a church fund to help his family, even setting up a Web site to allow for easy updates for relatives and friends.

Then in May, their own son, also named Jack, ended up in the hospital. He suffered a massive brain injury after he fell out of the boat he was riding in and was struck by the watercraft.

Doctors did not think the 4-year-old would survive with a quarter of his brain damaged. The Stapletons now were on the receiving end of support from Jennifer Williamson and Stephanie Gallagher.

“In the middle of the night – we’re up all night with sick babies – we e-mail each other,” Tamara Stapleton said.

These two families – once just acquaintances at Saint Mark United Methodist Church – have grown close as they watch the life-changing struggles of their young Jacks, two friends who share a love for their moms and trains, trucks and dinosaurs.

Tamara and Jackie Stapleton take breaks to tend to 5-month-old Kate Williamson as her parents help their other child recover from chemotherapy.

Williamson and Gallagher, meanwhile, routinely bring coffee as the Stapletons busily care for their own Jack.

Each boy’s hospital room has included a picture of the other Jack, as well as toys, drawings and letters of support from family, friends, church members and Sunday school classmates. The two boys also take time to see each other – Jack Stapleton sometimes rides a tricycle on a hospital floor and stops by to see Jack Williamson fingerpainting from within the glass-enclosed safety of an isolation playroom.

The moms also share their interests – mainly the love of their boys – late at night in the hospital rooms when the boys are sleeping. They encourage each other via computers and cell phones.

The support between the two families has inspired the health workers who care for the two Jacks.

The families “have one of the most tremendous relationships I’ve ever seen,” said Kimberly Corneal, an emergency medicine resident for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. “Having someone else who has an amazing story do something against all odds gives them a lot of inspiration.”

Jack Williamson was diagnosed with a kind of nerve cancer in March, when doctors told his parents that he only has a 30 percent chance to live to his eighth birthday.

“It was like it all happened for a reason, to prepare us for what was to come two months later,” Tamara Stapleton said of their days helping Jack Williamson and his family.

Even if they weren’t same-sex couples, the experience would be the same, Gallagher said.

“I think through this experience, we’ll always be very close and tight because we’re fighting for our kids’ lives together,” Gallagher said. “That need to relate to each other is very important and it relieves a lot of stress – we have some lighter moments with each other, which is a cherished moment – to have that lightheartedness in the midst of this situation.”

Over time, the children have improved.

Jack Williamson could return home as soon as next month, although he will have to return to the hospital for another blood stem cell transplant at the end of September.

And Jack Stapleton has started to talk again and has regained the use of some of his right leg.

During the months when both Jacks were in the hospital, the families maintained a daily routine. Tamara Stapleton dropped off coffee for her friends each morning, just leaving it outside Jack Williamson’s germ-free room.

“I knock and run because I’m afraid I’ll give them a cold germ,” Tamara Stapleton said.

In return, Gallagher brings the Stapletons lunch.

“I don’t even ask – I’ll just do it,” she said.

Both families look forward to the time when they will be able to return home. They’ll leave the hospital behind but will keep the friendships forged there.

“We’ll be inseparable,” said Tamara Stapleton. “There will always be a bond between us moms and our kids.”



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