By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist, firstname.lastname@example.org
Will DesJean had been at Riley Hospital for Children for just a couple of days last October when he received a Halloween bag filled with goodies from a local family wanting to give back.
It was the beginning of fall break last year when Will, then 8, was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in his left leg. His parents, Chris and Stacy (a former Riley nurse), were still absorbing the devastating news when they were touched by the unexpected gift.
Turns out, the family knew the gift-givers.
Kim and Matt Lyon and their kids, Piper and Brooklynn, were on the receiving end of many acts of kindness themselves after their daughter Piper was diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma. Then 5, the little girl underwent months of treatment at Riley.
Piper, now 9, and her family have teamed up with friends to pack and deliver Halloween bags to Riley every year since. It’s part of Halloween 4 Heroes, an outreach project launched when Piper was sick.
“We received one of her bags last year when we were here,” said Stacy, who actually coached Kim in cross-country at Franklin Central High School many years ago.
“When Piper got sick, we followed their journey, and Kim reached out to us when she heard that Will was sick.”
In what Kim described as a “full-circle moment,” the DesJean family, including Will and his two sisters, joined the Halloween 4 Heroes squad in a packing party last weekend, stuffing Halloween bags with toys, books and crafts.
In all, 260 bags were packed and delivered to Riley Hospital last week to be distributed to patients by child life specialists.
Riley Children’s Health President Gil Peri was even on hand to greet Kim and her crew and thank them for the donation, a gesture that she appreciated.
“It was nice to hear that he knew about us and our project, and they seemed really excited to be receiving the bags again this year,” said Kim, who has worked with friend and supporter Andrea Arnold to expand the project.
Will, now 9, is learning to walk again after orthopedic surgeon Dr. Christopher Collier removed much of his femur to root out the cancer last year, replacing the leg bone with donor bone. The boy’s chemotherapy ended in June, but a scan in September found a new tumor in one lung.
Riley pediatric surgeon Dr. Alan Ladd removed the small lung tumor last month. No chemo was needed because there was no evidence that the cancer had spread.
“So now we just watch and hold our breath,” Stacy said.
Meanwhile, Will is doing remarkably well, his mom said. He returned to school this year after missing most of last year, and he is regaining his strength, thanks to physical therapy.
The third-grader likes to fish and play video games with his friends, a lifesaver during COVID.
Dr. Melissa Bear is Will’s oncologist.
“We love her,” Stacy said. “All of our team is just amazing. I can’t say enough good things about them all.”
That’s why this year she wanted to be a part of the Halloween bag giveaway.
“We love to pay it forward to other families who are going through something similar.”
She’s thankful that tonight for Halloween, Will won’t be spending it in the hospital. He’ll be out trick-or-treating, dressed as Theodore from The Chipmunks.