PBL backs boy, family in cancer fight
LODA –The sun beat down on Ryan Coe as he stepped up to bat in a baseball game last August.
But a wild pitch hit him in the elbow. By the time he reached second base, his elbow was sore. And when another batter drove Ryan home, Ryan was struggling for breath as he rounded third base.
His mother, Michele Coe, knew something was wrong because Ryan was a distance runner. In fact, he ran for the school's cross country team.
But by the time he crossed home plate, the 13-year-old could barely breathe and the mark on his elbow where he'd been hit had grown huge.
His parents rushed him to Christie Clinic in Champaign, where Dr. Rex Kummer ordered blood tests.
That evening, life changed for Ryan, his parents Michele and Todd Coe of Loda, and their sons Austin, Tanner and Gunner.
Kummer told them that Ryan had acute myelogenous leukemia, or AML, a fast-growing cancer of the bone marrow and blood.
"It affects your white blood cells. They double and overcrowd the red cells," explained Michele Coe. "Ryan wasn't getting enough oxygen for his body."
Since red blood cells carry oxygen through the body, reduced amounts of blood cells can cause anemia and leave AML victims short of breath and weak.
Since blood platelets control bleeding, people with low amounts of red blood cells are prone to be more easily bruised.
Ryan was rushed to St. Louis Children's Hospital, which specializes in helping young cancer patients.
And now five months later, while Ryan has been separated from his friends and neighbors, the people of the Paxton, Buckley and Loda area haven't forgotten him.
Ryan's classmates, teachers and friends have been holding fundraisers for the benefit of the Coe family.
PBL sixth-grade teacher Stacy Johnson said that the school's baseball team raised about $1,400 by shaving their heads.
"We had events like hat day and sunglasses day," Johnson said. "If you wanted to wear a hat or sunglasses to school, you had to donate a dollar.
"On the day that the baseball players got their heads shaved, the students had to pay $1 admission to attend the assembly."
Ryan's teammates have worn wristbands bearing his name and number for every basketball game this winter and the coach presented Ryan with his own jersey.
PBL Junior High Principal Jeff Graham said the teachers began holding casual Fridays to help the Coe family.
"Our teachers can wear jeans and PBL sweatshirts. They can dress down as long as they donate to a jar," Graham said. "For the last two months, we gave that money to the Coes."
An account has been set up for Ryan at the Farmers-Merchants National Bank in Paxton, and Ryan's classmates and their families have been sending the Coe family gift certificates for pizzas and sandwiches.
"Everyone at the school has been wonderful," Michele Coe said.
One of Ryan's doctor's, Dr. Julie Kanter, will be running a marathon in St. Louis this coming April to raise money for her patients.
From his hospital bed, Ryan followed all the activities on his personal computer.
A Web site has been set up to report on Ryan's progress. Go to http://www.caringbridge.org/cb/inputSiteName.do?method
Michele Coe writes a regular blog there, and there's an electronic guest book where Ryan's friends send back daily messages to the 13-year-old eighth-grader.
"Ryan has friends that put something on there every day, and Ryan reads everything on it," Michele Coe said. "The site already had more than 10,000 hits on it."
Johnson said that many of the young people at PBL Junior High send frequent e-mails to Ryan.
"Those e-mails have been a godsend for Ryan," she said. "When kids are in junior high, they begin to think they are invincible. Ryan was a straight-A student and an athlete. When something like this happens to a model student, it puts life in perspective for all the young people. I think it has brought the school together as a group."
Perhaps the biggest sacrifice of all came from Ryan's brothers, Austin, 9, and twins Tanner and Gunner, 5.
Ryan desperately needed a bone morrow transplant, but hospital personnel were having difficulty finding somebody with bone morrow that matched Ryan's.
The three boys were tested, and the twins' bone morrow was an exact match.
Tanner was admitted to a hospital room two doors down from Ryan, and surgeons took bone morrow from the kindergartner's hip and gave it to Ryan.
"Gunner was the backup man," said Michele Coe.
When the twins returned to Ford County, they were welcomed home as heroes. Hundreds of area residents had followed the proceedings by way of Michele's blog.
Michele Coe said the Internet has helped Ryan and the entire family stay in touch with their hometown throughout the ordeal.
"All the love and support has been overwhelming," she said. "It makes me proud to live in a small community."