NEWPORT - The community is rallying around 7-year-old Toby Bigelow and his family after the youngster was recently diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
A.L.L. is cancerous condition in which the bone marrow makes too many immature lymphocytes, or white blood cells, according to the National Cancer Institute.
"He's always been very healthy-a straight-A student who loves to play outdoors, just an all-American kid," said Toby's mom, Tabatha Bigelow.
Photo courtesy of Tabatha Bigelow
Toby Bigelow of Newport stands next to a poster announcing his seventh birthday. In lieu of gifts Toby asked people to donate to the Humane Society of the Ohio Valley. The Newport Elementary student was recently diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
She said one morning about two weeks ago Toby awoke and said his foot and ankle were hurting.
"We asked what he had done to injure the ankle, but he said he didn't know," Tabatha said.
Toby's dad, Stephen Bigelow, had planned to take his son on his first deer hunt that week, but Toby said his foot was hurting too bad to go along, which was unusual for the outdoor-loving youngster.
How to Help
* Benefit concert featuring local groups Jan. 18 at Frontier High School 6 to 10 p.m.
* Fundraiser dinner at Newport Elementary School Jan. 19 noon to 5 p.m.
* Purchase a leukemia awareness bracelet or T-shirt printed with the slogan "One Goal, One Passion, A Cure."
* For more information, contact Ann Lyons at 304-893-3936.
The Bigelows took Toby to the emergency room at Marietta Memorial Hospital where he was eventually referred to orthopedic surgeon Dr. Gregory Krivchenia.
"He said he couldn't find anything wrong, but then ordered a blood test," Tabatha said. "Later that day the doctor called and asked us how fast we could get Toby to Nationwide Childrens Hospital in Columbus. He said a doctor would be waiting there in the ER."
Another blood test was conducted at the Columbus hospital, which confirmed that Toby had contracted A.L.L.
"He was immediately admitted and a biopsy was taken of his bone marrow," Tabatha said. "Two days later they started eight straight days of chemo therapy."
Last Wednesday the hospital administered the last of Toby's initial round of chemo therapy, gave him a blood transfusion and platelet transfusion, then sent him home for Christmas.
"But we go back again next week for another round of chemo," Tabatha said. "And we'll be doing that every week for 29 days, then he'll have another bone marrow test to see if the treatment is making progress."
The Bigelows said Toby is receiving excellent care at Nationwide Childrens Hospital.
"I wouldn't take him anywhere else," Tabatha said.
Stephen agreed, adding he doesn't mind making frequent trips to Columbus for treatments.
"I'd drive all the way to California if we had to," he said.
Tabatha said the doctor at Nationwide told her the type of leukemia for which Toby was diagnosed has a 50 percent to 95 percent cure rate, and they had caught the cancer early, which gave her some measure of comfort.
Still, it will be after the first of the year before the doctor can confirm if the chemo therapy is working.
"Meanwhile we try to keep things as normal as possible," Tabatha said, noting that Toby has to stay inside and away from other people for now because the chemo therapy has weakened his immune system.
"He gets tired easily, and has an upset stomach once in a while, but he's able to get up and walk around," she said. "He just can't leave the house, and he's used to being able to play outdoors."
Tabatha said Toby's older brother and sister, Joshua and Brittany Saunders, are also concerned.
"They were devastated after learning about the diagnosis," Tabatha said. "We're a very close family."
She said if the chemo is working it could take up to three years before Toby is completely cured.
"There's no good time for this, and you just have to take the good with the bad sometimes," Tabatha said.
Toby recently told his father, "Daddy, I just want to get this out of me."
"I do too, son, I do too," Stephen answered. "It may be a long haul, but we're strong, and we'll get through this."
Stephen said the Newport community has stepped up to support the family during this challenging time.
"People were all asking about him at church today," he said.
Tabatha said she's asking everyone to pray for Toby, which she and Stephen both believe will have the greatest impact on the outcome of their current situation.
"And we've had absolutely 100 percent support from everyone-it's huge," she said. "But it's also kind of hard to accept. We appreciate everything people are doing for us, but we've always been on the giving side when someone needs help, never on the receiving end."
The Bigelows' neighbor, Ann Lyons, is helping to coordinate some fundraising efforts to support Toby and his family.
"There's just something about Toby that touches my heart," she said. "They had a party for his last birthday, but he asked people to give money to the Humane Society instead of bringing him gifts. He's really a good kid."
Lyons said two fundraising events are scheduled next month.
"We're holding a benefit concert featuring several area groups Jan. 18 at Frontier High School from 6 to 10 p.m.," she said. "A donation will provide admission to the concert, and there will also be a concession stand for snacks."
A dinner to benefit the Bigelow family will be held from noon to 5 p.m. Jan. 19.
"Admission to the dinner will also be by donation," Lyons said. "The menu includes soup beans, chili, hot dogs, cornbread, rolls and dessert. Also we'll have a large country store and raffle that day."
She said members of the community are also selling leukemia awareness bracelets and t-shirts emblazoned with the slogan "One Goal, One Passion, A Cure" and Toby's name on the collar.
"We live in one of the best communities ever," Lyons said. "People have been asking how they can help-if the family needs Christmas shopping done, or if they need any groceries."