Pay it Forward: Bend boy fights leukemia, spreads cheer
Family buys stuffed animals for sick kids, like he had
Six-year-old Jesse Walker likes dinosaurs, angry birds and stuffed animals -- like the one he got the day he was diagnosed with leukemia.
On October 5th, 2010, Jesse was diagnosed with acute myloid leukemia (AML) at the age of 3 1/2 --the day after he and his adoptive parents Betty and Dwayne moved to Bend.
"It's unimaginable that a child, a tiny child can get cancer," Betty said.
The disease is characterized by the rapid growth of abnormal white blood cells that collect in the bone marrow and interfere with the production of normal blood cells. It's rare for kids -- AML accounts for just 5 percent of all childhood cancers.
"We could tell he was a very very sick little boy," Betty said.
Jesse was in the emergency room at St. Charles for only 12 hours before he was rushed to Doernbecher Children's Hospital in Portland.
He spent seven long months there, and the stuffed animal doctors gave him was always nearby.
Back in Bend that Christmas, the Walkers gathered 32 stuffed animals and took them to the doctors at St. Charles-Bend, to give to the kids in the emergency room, bringing a little joy to kids who need it most.
That's why Jesse's Childhood Cancer Awareness team is this month's Pay it Forward winner. And with $500, they are paying it forward with stuffed animals and a smile.
"For everything that Jesse has been given, we wanted to give back," Betty said.
Jesse and his family buy new stuffed animals, tie them with a ribbon and deliver them to the doctors.
"The kids may feel terrible, but you walk in with a stuffed animal and their expression changes in a heartbeat. It just lightens up, lifts their spirits," said Darin Durham, director of emergency services at St. Charles.
Jesse was the inspiration for the Bend firefighters who climbed more than 3,000 stairs for the annual Seattle Stairclimb last year, raising awareness and money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
Jesse's now been in remission for two years -- and he's more full of life than ever before.
"The biggest joy for me is to see Jesse just handing the toys to the nurse or the doctor, and he tells them, 'Here, this is for the sick little kids, because I was sick like that too' -- just touches your heart," Betty said.
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