Ollie Tibbles: The Boy Who Became a Train

Ollie Tibbles: The Boy Who Became a Train

4.2 8
by Debi Tibbles

When 4-year-old Ollie Tibbles was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, he answered, "I'm going to be a train!" Four years later at Union Station-Chicago, at Make-A-Wish Foundation's Grand Ball, Ollie's prediction and wish came true. Ollie's mother shares the story of his struggle with brain cancer and how pain was transformed into possibility.  See more details below


When 4-year-old Ollie Tibbles was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, he answered, "I'm going to be a train!" Four years later at Union Station-Chicago, at Make-A-Wish Foundation's Grand Ball, Ollie's prediction and wish came true. Ollie's mother shares the story of his struggle with brain cancer and how pain was transformed into possibility.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Ollie Tibbles declared that one day he would become a train, and that's exactly what happened. After the seven year old succumbed to cancer, the Make-a-Wish Foundation arranged for a train in the commuter division of Illinois' Regional Transportation Authority to be named in honor of the young boy. Here, the "cheeky monkey"'s mother details Ollie's winning spirit, his devastating diagnosis at age five, and the grueling rounds of treatment that would ultimately prove ineffectual against the cancer in his spine and brain. In addition to recounting Ollie's struggles, Tibbles reflects candidly on numerous topics, including illness, parenting, marriage, and sexuality. She admits that the book began as a way for her to cope with the loss of Ollie and remember her son's short life, and she chronicles the flood of empathetic responses she received after posting her grief-laden missives online. As such, this is indeed a heart-wrenching story, but Tibbles's narrative is chatty, unpolished, and riddled with grammatically dubious statements (e.g., "I remember as a child my first crush."). If readers can ignore the prose, Ollie's resilient spirit and his family's emotional journey are certainly inspiring. (July)
From the Publisher

"As you read this compelling account, you are so immediately drawn into her story, it almost feels as if Debi Tibbles is sitting beside you as a friend telling you about the joys and sorrows happening in her life." —www.FreshFiction.com

"A heartfelt . . . story . . . laced with hope, heartbreak, and hope again . . . magnificently told by Debi Tibbles, a mother who is a heroine for her journey and for making Ollie's story an enduring testimony for all of us." —Squire Rushnell, author, When God Winks at You and Couples Who Pray

Product Details

Medallion Media Group
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

Ollie Tibbles: The Boy Who Became a Train

By Debi Tibbles

Medallion Press, Inc.

Copyright © 2012 Debi Tibbles
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-60542-491-0

Chapter One

Listening to the Voice

I picked up the phone and recognized the voice of Missy, the school secretary at Willow Creek Elementary, where our children attended. Which one might need me: our ten-year-old Jess, seven-year-old George, or five-year-old Ollie? It was Ollie, who was complaining of a headache and wanted to come home.

I hung up, cursing under my breath that I'd have to cancel my hair appointment.

In the school's sick bay next to the office, however, my concern quickly shifted. Ollie lay on the bed, face crumpled with pain, hands cradling his head. Tears slowly rolled down his cheeks as he looked up. "Mummy, my head. My head, Mummy." His arms reached for me.

Seeing his pain, I scooped him up and whispered in his ear as I carried him out of the school building. "It's okay, baby. It's okay. Mummy's here. Shhh."

My words of comfort were in vain. In obvious agony, he started to wail.

This was not the first time Ollie had gotten a bad headache. In fact, he'd been having them on a fairly regular basis. I assumed he suffered from migraines, just as I had as a child.

He held me tightly, still clutching his head. "Mummy, my head hurts. Make it stop."

Though I was alarmed, I tried to reassure him as I put him in the car. Every time we drove over a bump, I winced, aware of his pain.

His wails continued during a short yet excruciatingly long drive home.

When we entered the garage, without warning Ollie started vomiting. I was taken aback by the sheer violence of it. He looked terrified, his eyes bulging. He was trying to speak but didn't have time. His little body was shaking uncontrollably, the vomit exploding relentlessly from his wide-open mouth.

The bathroom was just around the corner. Why hadn't he waited? Usually if the kids felt sick, they would first tell me, hold it, then run to the bathroom. As Ollie stood doubled over, one hand on the door, one hand clutching his stomach, I finally realized what he was trying to say: he was sorry for messing the kitchen floor.

I gulped, stopping myself from crying. "Baby, don't be silly. I don't care about the floor." Between eruptions, I wiped his nose and mouth clean.

After what seemed an age, the vomiting ceased. Glancing at the clock, I realized the whole episode had lasted almost fifteen minutes.

Immediately, however, the severe pain in his head returned. His outcries resumed.

I gave him some Tylenol and sat with him until he finally fell into a deep sleep that lasted hours.

The fact that Ollie slept so long should have alarmed me. This was not what a normal, healthy, robust five-year-old would do. As soon as children are able to move, there's no stopping them—and Ollie was no exception. The youngest of our three children, he'd walked early and was soon skipping, running, and jumping his way into trouble in his adorable way.

I'll never forget the time I found him perched on an upside-down plastic toy container on the kitchen counter, a chair atop as his stairway to heaven: namely, the sweetie cupboard. His head was buried in a bag of Tootsie Rolls before he looked at me proudly with his See what I can do? grin.

"You cheeky monkey," I said, using our pet name for Ollie and picking him up for a huge cuddle.

We had terms of endearment reflecting each of our kids' unique personalities. Jess was the minx, George was the little monster, and Ollie, who'd mischievously been into everything since he could crawl, was our cheeky monkey.

Our cheeky monkey was not himself. Over the course of several weeks, Ollie had another episode and then another, and my fear set in. Something was seriously wrong. I sensed it. The natural instinct of a mother was warning me, and the feeling would not go away.

I called Peter, who was working on an assignment in London. I told him my concerns for our son, yet I was torn about truly sharing what I felt, not wanting to worry him.

Frightened of what it all meant, I pushed it to the back of my mind, turning instead to comforting thoughts: He'll be fine. You'll see. It's just severe migraines. There has to be something else going on because, after all, nothing that bad could ever happen to us.

Oh, the bliss of ignorance.

I could not have been more wrong. As the weeks passed with Ollie's episodes rendering him unable to go to school, I finally listened to the voice within and took him to our doctor.

Sitting in the doctor's waiting room, I watched Ollie play with his Thomas the Tank Engine trains, weaving in and out of the chairs.

Ollie's passion for trains had begun as soon as he'd been able to hold toys and books in his little hands.

When we lived in London, we used both the Underground (The Tube) and also Main Line trains to get around. He knew every kind of engine, what switches and buffers referred to, what a turntable was, the difference between certain train depots and how each one was used. Nothing brought this home to him more than the stories of Thomas & Friends, and he had them all, along with the videos, coloring books, bed linens, and clothing.

Ollie's interest continued to grow after we arrived in Chicago. When he was around the age of five, we took him to our local station in Downers Grove where he saw the Metra passenger train for the first time and was completely transfixed.

"It's a double-decker—like our red buses in England, Mummy!"

In a way, he was right. Little did I know just how significant this particular train would be to us.

"Toot, toot!" Ollie yelled joyfully in the doctor's waiting room. It had been just over a week since his last episode, and he was doing fine.

Everything was back to normal, so what was I doing here? This was just a waste of time, and I might as well leave. Yet in the pit of my stomach the constant nagging wouldn't go away.

Ollie, on the other hand, was blissfully unaware and continued to play happily, crawling along the floor, choo-chooing loudly, much to the annoyance of his fellow patients in the waiting room. A rather grim-faced lady politely asked me to keep my son quiet, and I apologized. It was the last time I would ever apologize for my son.

Our family doctor was a kind, pleasant man whom we all felt comfortable around. Ollie giggled as he prodded his belly during the examination.

He asked lots of questions. "How many headaches does he get a month?"

"Three to four."

"Does he always vomit when he gets a headache?"

"He didn't at first, but he does now."

"Is he having problems with his vision?"

"I never even thought about that, but actually yes." Sometimes Ollie would get double vision or, in his own words, "see two of everything." When he put his hand up to cover one eye, it helped him see properly.

"Does that happen a lot?"

"No, just now and again."

"Does he eat a lot of chocolate?"

"What? Of course! He's a kid."

"Do the headaches come after he eats chocolate?"

"Ummm, sometimes."

"And after he eats cheese?"

It just so happened that Ollie ate a lot of both.

"Do you think we should get an MRI done?" I said hesitantly. "You know, just in case?" I didn't even know why I asked. The question had seemed to just pop into my head.

He assured me that there was no reason for concern and that Ollie was probably experiencing these headaches due to food allergies. It was common, apparently. He suggested natural products for Ollie without additives, and I said we'd give it a try.

I felt relieved, comforted by all he said. Surely the doctor would know of any signs of something more serious, wouldn't he? Once more, I tried to put the fears away.

When I arrived home I got on the phone to Pete to relay what the doctor had said. He sounded miserable. He was lonely. Despite being employed here in Chicago, the company needed him at the London branch for a while, and even though he enjoyed working with old colleagues and seeing friends and family on a regular basis, he missed us all, especially the kids. He would make trips back home once a month. It was a challenging time for him, and he was doing his best to adjust.

It was sometimes hard for me as well. Life alone with the kids was often chaotic as I juggled school, homework, activities, and time with them, often without a break. I had a newfound respect and admiration for single mothers. I was tired often, and I realized with a pang of guilt that I missed my freedom while Pete was away more than I missed him. I missed adult conversations, ones that did not revolve around SpongeBob's latest antics or what the Teletubbies were making for lunch.

Teaching group fitness became my salvation on the rare days I got out of the house. Freedom! That's how I perceived it at the time.

I didn't empathize with how Pete was feeling. He was lonely, yet selfishly I didn't see it that way. I could only think of how things were for me. During our conversations, without thinking, I would focus more on how I was coping, the old pity me syndrome. Only when he mentioned how much he missed the kids would I wake out of my selfish fog and truly listen to what he was saying.

He was just as worried as I was about Ollie, yet like me he felt comforted to hear what the doctor had said. After chatting about his health for a while, he agreed that we should things were once we changed his diet. After all, he was fine now and maybe it had been merely allergies all along. No worries.

I pushed all thoughts about Ollie's health to the back of my mind as the conversation shifted to the family vacation we were planning. We would stay in Pete's fancy apartment in the heart of London for three weeks in March.

The kids and I had been counting down the days. Seeing Pete again would be fun. He was my best friend, the guy I could say anything to, the one who understood me and could always make me laugh.

Also, I was hoping this trip would rekindle something in our marriage. I hoped that absence really would make the heart grow fonder and we could find ourselves again.

As I hung up, I was hopeful.

I awoke to screaming and a strange gurgling sound.

A frightened George yelled at the top of his voice, "Mummy, come quick!" A pause, then, "Mum! Mummy!"

I leapt out of bed, my heart pounding, and sprinted to the boys' room directly across the hall. Jess came out, all bleary-eyed, then immediately awake as Ollie let out another terrifying scream.

George stood at the end of Ollie's bed, watching almost trancelike as Ollie's projectile vomit hit the floor and sprayed George's bed on the other side of the room. I'll never forget the look on his face: pure terror.

I tried to stay calm.

"It's okay, Georgie. Ollie's got an upset tummy. He'll be okay. Go get a bucket and a flannel for me, okay? And thank you, sweetie, for calling me."

I knelt by Ollie's bed as he lay half out of it.

Vomit covered his pillow, bed, and pajamas. He was sweating profusely and holding his head.

I tried to clean him up, whispering, "It's okay, baby. It's okay. Shhh, Mummy's here," as I picked up globs of puke and threw them in the bucket George handed to me.

There was a pause, and then Ollie cried out in a voice I had not heard before, a terrible, almost primal wailing, "My head! Oh, my head! Help me, Mummy! Ooooohh noooooooo!" A horrible squeal and then more violent vomiting.

I had never seen anything like it. It was worse than before, and I desperately tried to stay composed. Something truly awful and wrong was happening. It was as though evil had taken over my tiny child's body. Mercilessly, the violent spasms continued.

Images of The Exorcist ridiculously burst into my mind as I fought to take control of the frightening scene. I had to get the other kids out. I told George to go and wait in our bedroom—I'd be right there. I asked Jess to get me some warm water and a towel, then join her brother.

The vomiting continued. How could so much come from such a tiny body?

Ollie's face looked different.

On high alert, I couldn't show my fear. Protecting him from it, I maintained a calm demeanor.

As the vomiting subsided, Ollie laid his head on my lap, crying softly. His face was full of pain, and he was unable to speak, his little body spent of energy.

Stroking and wiping him clean, I noticed for the first time something strange. His left eye looked odd, like it wasn't straight or something, like it had moved. "Sweetie, baby, does your head still hurt?" It was a stupid question, but I asked it anyway.

He nodded. He looked sad, exhausted, scared. Thankfully he was asleep almost immediately.

He would sleep ten straight hours.

Ollie's episode had finished, yet it was just the beginning of traumatic events to come. Symptoms of what was secretly growing inside my child were now presenting themselves in force, and I returned to the doctor, who still felt it was unnecessary to get an MRI. He once again reassured me there was nothing serious to worry about, and I stupidly believed him. I trusted him.

When I pointed out that Ollie's left eye seemed to have moved slightly, the doctor said lazy eyes were common in kids and they grew out of them. He suggested I take him to an eye doctor.

Yet my uneasiness was now permanent, and I wanted a second opinion.

I called Pete and told him what had happened, what the doctor had said, and that I was nervous something was truly wrong with our son. It was difficult to explain the enormity of the situation when he was so far away and had yet to witness the true impact of what was happening. The last time he'd visited home, Ollie had gotten a headache, yet nothing else had occurred: no screaming pain, violent vomiting, or unusual lethargy. With the information he had, Pete was not as concerned as I was, and he leaned toward accepting the advice of our doctor.

It was almost as though this thing was mocking us, waiting with its evil: It's okay. Your baby's okay. I'm just playing with you guys. Ha-ha! You can't see me. Don't worry, be happy. It smirked at us as we silently and fearlessly stood by while it intruded and took up residence inside our child and began making cruel plans.

Finally, however, my persistence for a second opinion paid off, and Pete arranged a consultation with a pediatrician in London. We explained this to our children, who obviously knew Ollie had been sick a lot lately. During our upcoming trip, we would visit a special doctor who could help Ollie, and then we would continue with our fun plans.

Not overly concerned, the kids just nodded and said, "Okay," before quickly moving on to the excitement of our vacation.


Excerpted from Ollie Tibbles: The Boy Who Became a Train by Debi Tibbles Copyright © 2012 by Debi Tibbles . Excerpted by permission of Medallion Press, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

Debi Tibbles is a motivational speaker for Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago and the Make-A-Wish Foundation for Illinois. She has made guest appearances on Martha Stewart Living Radio and with John St. Augustine on Oprah Radio and has been invited to join the Joy of Mom team, part of the Oprah Winfrey Network. She also teaches group fitness. She lives in Bolingbrook, Illinois.

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Ollie Tibbles: The Boy Who Became a Train 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was wonderful. I couldn't put it down. As a Make A Wish wishgranter, it was a special book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thank you so much for your story, of a beautiful young boy with such courage. Ollie, you are so inspiring, thank you for giving me a treasured gift. I only know of you through your Mummy's words. I will keep you in my heart and yell less and laugh and love so much more!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
DO NOT READ THIS BOOK unless you have a box of tissues handy.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I usually do not write reviews of books. But this book makes a big difference, because you can feel that  it is honest written and you will not put it away until the very end.  Thank you debi tribbles for sharing this memory of an unforgettable child. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Cried my way through this excellently written tale of love and loss. Amazing and wonderful. A must read!!!!!!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It feels wrong to say I enjoyed this book, but never have I been more captivated by a story. I can feel every heartbreak, every teardrop and every moment of anguish. It is beautifully and honestly written, and I wish there was some way I could give Debi Tibbles an award for it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book brought tears to my eyes. Ollie is a special little boy. Thank-you for sharing .
Anonymous More than 1 year ago