JOPLIN, Mo. — Luke Waggoner, a 14-year-old–blunt, vibrant, excited–but also a child with autism. But that’s not all, he had many other medical conditions throughout life. He died earlier this month from one of them–one that doctors have never seen in a child his age.
Kim Waggoner, Luke’s Mother, said, “And he was always sincere, I think, If I could think of one adjective to describe him, it would be loved.”
Matt Waggoner, Luke’s Father, said, “He brought joy to people, he made people laugh.”
14-year-old Luke Waggoner was far from normal–but in the best way.
“He spent 52 days in the NICU.”
“Lukas was Lukas every single time,” said Kim.
Luke was diagnosed with numerous health conditions–one of them autism at the age of four.
“He was really a lover of people but he loved you on his terms,” said Matt.
But none of his conditions stopped his love for life, people and of course–history, especially wars.
“He says ‘sir, were you in the Vietnam war,’ because he knew his instructor was a veteran, and he said, ‘well, we all knew how that turned out don’t we,’ and you’re just kind of standing there going, ‘bubba you can’t say that.'”
Both parents believe the way Joplin schools included and listened to their son made him who he was. He went to elementary school at Stapleton in Joplin–then middle school at South.
“There is a spirit of inclusion from Karen Secrest to Mrs. Lordis, the building administrator, everyone has a sense of inclusion.”
“They listened to us, they’d listen to Luke, we’d have three hour IEP meetings, on this is what we need to do, this is how we need to fix this, and many parents don’t realize you can ask for as many IEP meetings as you need and Stapleton never faltered on that,” said Kim
Luke was at South Middle School when his medical conditions started getting worse.
“Luke started presenting with some unusual symptoms months ago, covid time,” said Matt.
And things didn’t get better.
“He had kind of collapsed at school and was complaining of severe stomach pain.”
They took him to the E.R. Where they waited and waited.
“14 year olds have stomach pains, they collapse, that’s not normal.”
But the doctors couldn’t find anything based on the symptoms Luke was describing. That was because he’s autistic–and children with autism sometimes just can’t explain what actually hurts.
“Because we knew something was wrong with Lukas but we couldn’t figure it out.”
He said he had stomach troubles and later said he had a tightness in his chest. His behavior made it apparent–he was in pain.
“Frustration, he had increased frustrations with everything, and we were seeing an increase in his behaviors, he couldn’t tolerate, his tolerance dropped,” said Matt.
But without answers, they did the best they could to help him–later to find out…
“The first time he collapsed at school, that was probably his first heart attack.”
After that–his symptoms got worse, an increase in migraines and trouble sleeping. December 10th–a normal day–Luke had that trouble the night before–dad made homemade donuts.
“We got up, it was his little brothers birthday, they insisted I make homemade donuts, so I made them.”
Luke got to school–only to collapse a short time later.
“It was a different kind of collapse, they were panicked when they called,” said Kim.
It was another massive heart attack.
“They said you had to get there now.”
He was taken to a local hospital–they did what they could but it was beyond them–so he was flown to KU Medical Center. But Luke was still being himself at times through the pain–his parents seeing that as a glimmer of hope.
“But we were never prepared for what the next 24 hours would hold.”
Luke’s heart attacks were major spasms throughout his entire circulatory system. Violent shaking.
“It had started to tear the left coronary artery from his heart because the spasm was so strong.”
Doctors were left with no options–the condition had a grim prognosis.
“We prayed and we knew that I needed to let my son go, probably the hardest decision that we’ve ever made but we loved Luke and him being in pain wasn’t an option.”
“I said to the doctors, I can let him go, because my heavenly father let his son go, and If he can do it, I know he’ll give me the grace to do it,” said Matt.
Jake Waggoner, Brother, said, “Over the last few days we became best friends, and then the days before that we weren’t which made that pretty sad, when he passed away, and what did you say, what did you call bubbie, I called him my bestfriend.”
“We just made it a point to tell him over and over, we love you and we’re proud of you,” said Matt.
Luke’s parents know he changed lives in Joplin because he changed theirs.
“They would ask about children like everyone does, oh well both my children have autism, and their response was always why? Why? Lukas changed how I view the world, I’m a more compassionate person, I’m a more loving person, and I’m grateful for that gift,” said Kim
You can help the Waggoner family. They’ve set up a go fund me to help pay for funeral expenses.