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WAP raises $7,000 for St. Judes

DEMOPOLIS – A hoard of young children rode furiously around the track, often having to be extricated from each other as they entered the turns. From the sidelines, Chad McDowell, a small boy wearing a toboggan cap to cover his thinning hair, watches with enthusiasm, seemingly unaffected by the fact he cannot join the festivities.

The four-year-old was diagnosed with Leukemia last year and has been battling the deadly disease, attending chemotherapy every week and enduring an onslaught of pokes and prods as nurses and doctors run tests.

“His blood count is low this week so he’s been out of school,” Chad’s mother, Naomi Rainer, said. When able, though, Chad enjoys being in school. “When his blood count is good, we rush him up here to school,” she said.

The riders, astride bikes decorated with everything from superhero paraphernalia to signs touting “God Bless America and God Bless Chad,” were participating in a fundraising Trike-A-Thon at West Alabama Preparatory School, where Chad and twin sister, Mitzi, are in the Pre-Kindergarten class.

“Everything we raised through this Trike-a-Thon goes to St. Judes,” Rachel Holtzclaw, Chad’s teacher, said. “(Chad’s family) can’t take him to St. Judes because it’s too far away, but St. Judes works with Children’s Hospital in Birmingham and they have really helped Chad and his family.”

There are still some donations coming in, but the school has raised nearly $7,000.

“I’m very pleased,” Holtzclaw said. “The whole county, not just this community, but the whole county has come together. We will probably have reached $7,000 before it’s over.”

Chad was diagnosed with the cancer in October 2003, and his mother said the first few months were truly the hardest.

“Especially the first five months,” she said. “We stayed most of the time in the hospital because of infections.”

Though Chad is home now, he continues to endure weekly trips to the hospital for blood checks and chemotherapy treatments. Despite the medical problems and weekly treatments, Chad bounded around the parking lot at West Alabama Prep, laughing and clapping his hands with excitement.

The smile that continuously graced his face grew wider still when Jim Stanford of Robertson Bank presented Chad with a brand new, sparkling blue bicycle, given by the bank.

He couldn’t take it for a spin, but Chad was delighted to allow Stanford to help him onto the bicycle to test the seat and pose for a few pictures. He looked at his mom, standing nearby, and grinned gleefully.

“Blue is my favorite color,” he said later as he checked out his new wheels.

Stanford said the bank had been approached by the school and asked to help.

“We were honored to take part,” Stanford said. “We’re just happy to be a part of it, and our thoughts and prayers are with the family.”

In addition to the new bicycle for Chad, other children participating in the Trike-A-Thon received numerous prizes that had been donated from local businesses, including nine bicycles and two large gift baskets filled with goodies.

“This is a great cause they’ve taken on and they did a great job,” Stanford said of the staff, parents and other volunteers at the school.

Rainer agreed, and said the event was particularly special because it did not benefit just one child.

“It’s very nice, mostly for those who have cancer, especially in the way of cancer research” she said. “They just have an open heart, and Chad is an example of what the money is for.”