Every so often, if you’re fortunate enough, a person will come into your life who will give you a new perspective and remind you what’s truly important. Recognise these special people and do everything in your power to lift them up – because you’ll learn more from them than any on-the-job training could ever provide. One person who touched countless lives with his kindness and dignity was Carson Higgins.
Carson Higgins was always surrounded by angels. His angels were with him less than a year later when he began treatment for stage-4 neuroblastoma, a rare form of childhood cancer. Carson was chosen for an experimental protocol at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, and for thirteen months he fought the disease with his mum – and his angels – right beside him.
Carson made a miraculous recovery and was released in 2008 with no evidence of cancer in his body. As he grew into his own and gained confidence, his unique interests began to take shape. He joined the Boy Scouts and loved to be outdoors as much as possible, and he talked all the time about his dream of visiting America’s national parks to see unrivalled natural beauty up close.
The Higgins family was planning on turning that dream into a reality in the summer of 2016. But during Thanksgiving week of 2015 fate cruelly intervened. Carson unexpectedly relapsed and had to begin another round of treatment. The following June, the Higgins’ were face to face with a family’s worst nightmare – the cancer was terminal. If the Higgins family were ever at a loss for how to proceed, or what to think, they looked no further than the strongest 12-year-old they knew for inspiration. Carson never once complained during either hospital stint.
Within a day of his son’s grim diagnosis, Carson’s dad John bought an RV and drove down to Memphis with Carson’s four brothers in tow. They picked up Carson and mum Debbie and headed straight for South Dakota with no reservations and no idea what to expect. The national park trip was back on.
When they arrived at the Badlands, they were welcomed by Chief Park Ranger Casey Osback greeted Carson and brought the family into the park, where they were escorted to their campsite by General Manager and Forever Resorts staff member Scott West. As Carson would soon find out, the bar for this road trip was about to be set extremely high – literally.
The Higgins clan had barely settled in before they were whisked away to a helipad where Carson was given a falcon’s-eye view of the entire park with his dad and youngest brother Derek sharing a helicopter ride with him. When they landed, Carson was quick with his review: “That was the best life experience ever!”
In the spirit of paying it forward, Scott and Casey called ahead to the road trip’s next stop, Mt. Rushmore, to let the staff there know who was about to swing through so the red carpet could continue rolling out. This wasn’t an official wish trip, but it was Carson’s wish, and a network of park employees worked on the fly to give everything they had to an inspirational boy and his family.
Each subsequent park built on the momentum that started at the Badlands. Carson collected challenge coins along the trip and designed his own set that were sent out to each stop. Carson’s coins sit proudly today in Scott’s office and in the Badlands ranger conference room, among many other places.
Rangers from Yellowstone to the Grand Tetons to Redwoods gave Carson one experience of a lifetime after another. He even got a California Highway Patrol escort down the 101 to a private lighthouse for the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge. As the Higgins’ RV flew down the highway flanked by flashing lights, Carson turned to his brothers and proclaimed, “You can call me Emperor Carson now!”
If a story like Carson’s has to end, its final chapter couldn’t have been written any more beautifully. For five amazing weeks, mum, dad and four grateful brothers got to spend the best possible family time with the boy they loved, doing something he loved. They were by Carson’s side in Las Vegas when he passed away the night of 11th August and flew home with him days later in a spectacular send-off, 12,000 feet above the entire length of the Grand Canyon in a private jet.
From Ohio to Memphis to one of Forever Resorts in the Badlands, thousands of people share unforgettable memories of Carson’s love and life lessons. They also share an angel.
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