Dozens of students at Richmond Hill Elementary and Richmond Hill Primary schools showed up to class Monday decked in orange to support local resident Evan Nelms in his battle with leukemia.
And though Evan, a 5-year-old kindergartner in Patricia Shatto’s class at Richmond Hill Primary School, wasn’t there physically, he was there in spirit, represented by a large stuffed monkey that goes nearly everywhere with the class.
“Evan’s mother brought it in at the beginning of the school year,” Shatto said. “It reminds us that even though he is not here in body, he is here in spirit. We love and care for him because he loves and cares for us.”
Evan was diagnosed in April of last year with acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a rare and aggressive form of cancer, according to his mother, Evette Cooper. By September, Evan had concluded all treatment and was in remission, but the cancer relapsed in early January, and within one week had spread to his bone marrow and his right eye.
Shatto said the children love having the monkey represent Evan, and they take it to nearly every activity the class participates in — including story time, lunch and other daily activities. The monkey sits in Evan’s seat and is cared for by 6-year-old student John Osteen who sits beside Evan when he is well enough to attend school.
John said Evan is one of his good friends. Even though John said he “feels bad” for Evan because he is sick, he said it makes him feel good to be in charge of the monkey.
“I love you, Evan,” he said.
Evan’s fellow classmates have also helped decorate Shatto’s classroom door, and they wrote notes to Evan to create a wall mural in the hallway depicting how much they care for him.
“We miss him so much, and he is our hero,” Shatto said.
In addition to dressing in orange, students and parents were asked to bring donations of $1 or more to be sent to Evan’s family to help with medical costs.
Evan and his parents are currently at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania while Evan undergoes chemotherapy and radiation while awaiting a bone marrow transplant. As of Tuesday, Cooper said Evan had received two rounds of “heavy-duty” chemo and nine sessions of sedated radiation to his eye.
“He is doing well,” Cooper said in an email. “He has gotten sick a few times but overall he is staying ‘EVANSTRON.’”
Cooper said Evan will continue daily radiation to his right eye for a total of 12 sessions, though he may not regain vision in that eye.
“The main goal is to get Evan back into remission with heavy-duty chemo and radiation. This may take a month to three months; we pray for remission,” Cooper wrote. “He has to be in remission to go to transplant. Bone marrow transplant is very risky ... (and) will take approximately 100 days.
“Doctors told us we will be here for six to eight months. No matter how long, we will stay to save our son’s life. Nothing matters except Evan and saving him.”
Cooper said Evan still does not have a bone marrow transplant match, and she encouraged Bryan County residents to register to become bone marrow donors.
“A desperate mother pleads for you to get tested — you may be the one to save Evan’s life. And if not Evan, then possibly someone else,” Cooper said.
Local schools aren’t the only ones banding together to help Evan and his family. Purcell said she and two other friends, Stephanie Merchant and LeAnn Flemmings, have come together to host a fundraiser for Evan’s family on Feb. 23 in J.F. Gregory Park.
Another ongoing fundraiser for Evan and his family is the “‘Orange’ ya gonna help Evan” orange bow fundraiser hosted by Cindy Udinsky.
“My son is in Evan’s kindergarten class, and so it just really hit close to home. And I thought if I was ever in this situation, I knew our school and community would come together and help support me if our family ever came into this situation,” Udinksy said.
Udinksy is selling big orange bows for $10 each, with all proceeds going to Evan’s family. She said she wanted to help in a way that would not only raise money, but also allow Evan to see how much he is cared for.
“I was trying to think of something different … and I went back to the bow on mailbox if you have a baby coming home from hospital,” Udinsky said. “And orange is the color of leukemia (awareness ribbons), so why not wrap this town in orange for when he comes home.
“So it’s not just monetary donations — yes, he is getting that, but now he can physically see something when he’s riding home and going to school. Even though he’s only 5 and a half, I think he’ll be able to understand, “Those are for me, people care about me and are supporting me.’”
As of Tuesday, Udinsky had sold nearly 40 bows in less than 24 hours. To purchase a bow, residents can call 912-308-3774.
Read more in the Feb. 6 edition of the News.