Fredericksburg Soap Box Derby Director Alvin Staples has formed close bonds with racers and their families in the 17 years he has been involved with the annual event.
“Just plain good people,” Staples says of the folks he has met through the derby.
He found out just how good in the past year, after his adult daughter, Lindsey, was diagnosed with cancer.
Lindsey Staples Dean, 31, has been active in the derby almost since it returned to the area in 1997. She was the first female champion of the local Super Stock division in 1999 and has been a volunteer for the past 10 years.
Last fall, she started experiencing a constant, dull stomachache and lost energy to the point where she could barely walk. She visited a doctor in Culpeper, where she lives, but when she learned she couldn’t get a follow-up appointment until the next week, she called her parents.
Staples quickly called Dr. Brad King, whose family has been active in the derby for several years.
King, who performs the majority of liver surgeries for Surgical Associates of Fredericksburg, was alarmed at Dean’s symptoms. He advised Staples to take his daughter to a hospital that night and agreed to examine her the next morning.
After a CT scan and numerous tests, Dean was diagnosed with fibrolamellar hepatocellular carcinoma, a rare form of liver cancer that affects only about 200 people each year.
Her prognosis was not good. Doctors at the University of Virginia Medical Center said they could remove only tumors that were 5 centimeters or smaller. Dean’s tumor, which covered her entire abdomen, was about 160 centimeters.
The doctors there told Dean to put her affairs in order.
Not willing to give up, the Stapleses began looking for a surgeon who would take on the operation. Staples called a physician from another derby family: Dr. Jeffrey Askew, who specializes in cardiovascular diseases and nuclear cardiology at the Virginia Cardiovascular Consultants.
Askew—whose two children, 9-year-old Diana and 11-year-old Theo, will be racing in the derby this year—recommended a doctor in Pittsburgh who specializes in liver transplants and has a reputation of being a risk-taker.
Dr. James W. Marsh ended up being a perfect fit. He knew the risks the operation would have, but wanted to try every option as much as the Staples’ family.
Dean received a liver transplant from her brother, Travis, in February. She is doing better, though recovery will be a long process, according to Staples.
King and Askew have been constant sources of hope and advice to the Staples family through the year. When Dean contracted an infection and was rushed to Virginia Commonwealth University hospital, King and Askew sat with the Stapleses in the waiting room.
“They’re friends,” Staples said.
Staples asked the doctors for their advice.
“[King] said there are things you can do. Askew said, ‘Let’s get on with it,’” Staples said.
All of the Staples family, including Dean, will be at the Soap Box Derby on Saturday. Among the bustle of racing, families and friendly competition, the Stapleses, Kings and the Askews will be constantly reminded of the experiences that bonded them together in and out of the Soap Box Derby.
“There’s a million stories with the derby,” Staples said. “More stories than there are pen or paper for.”