Special Child popular part of Christmas on the River

Published 4:28 pm Friday, December 8, 2023

Oliver James Sullivan, this year’s Christmas on the River Special Child, was quite popular with the community. Sullivan was present for the lighting of the Love Lights Tree at Whitfield Regional Hospital, and was one of the stars of the Day Parade this past Saturday. 

His smiling face and enthusiastic waves to the crowd during the parade made the day that much better.

Sullivan’s father, Jeremy Sullivan, said he was proud to see his son as part of the parade. Knowing that his son was named the Special Child after everything he has been through in the last four years, made him a happy father.

Jeremy Sullivan takes a moment to take a photo with his son Oliver in front of the Love Lights Tree at Whitfield Regional Hospital. Photo by Andrea Burroughs.

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“It made me feel great that he was actually chosen as the Special Child. He is a very special child for sure,” Jeremy Sullivan said.

Sullivan was born at 25 weeks due to his mother having HELLP syndrome. HELLP stands for hemolysis, elevated liver enzymes, and low platelets is a life-threatening pregnancy complication usually considered to be a variant of preeclampsia. Ricki Ann Gandy, Sullivan’s mother, described HELLP syndrome as the body shutting down and organs failing and is caused by the fetus.

Jeremy Sullivan said in the beginning, it was very hard to watch his son go through what he did.

“When he was in Tuscaloosa, I was there every morning at 5 a.m. to feed him. Then I went back every afternoon when I got off work,” said Jeremy Sullivan. “I wanted to spend as much time with him as I could. Then once he was moved to Birmingham, we were there five out of seven days a week seeing him.”

Once COVID hit in 2020, visitation was dropped to only one parent, and Jeremy was unable to see his son for an entire month. He had to rely on photos and FaceTime during COVID, and he said it just wasn’t the same as getting to see his son in person.

Now, four years later, both parents got to see their son smiling and be a part of Demopolis’s biggest event of the year.

“It was great seeing him in the parade. He was ecstatic. You could tell he was very happy from the way he was waving at everybody. He was having a great time,” Jeremy Sullivan said.

Gandy, who rode on the float with her son, said that he enjoyed the parade very much.

He loved it. The whole time during the parade he went from one side of the float to the other to wave at everyone,” said Gandy.

Gandy said Sullivan also enjoyed getting to light the tree at WRH. He loved the attention and well wishes he received from people in the community.

Even after COTR, Gandy said she and her family feel honored that Sullivan was chosen as the Special Child.

“We’re still honored that he was asked to be this year’s Special Child. We appreciate everything that they did for us. So we can’t thank everyone enough,” Gandy said.

Jeremy’s message to other parents in similar situations is to never give up hope.

“God can pull any child through anything. He (Oliver) is just a true blessing who can show you that anything is possible. Just never give up. Hope and pray about it, and continue to spend as much time with them as you can,” Jeremy Sullivan said. “Talk to them daily and show them that you love them. Let them know you’re there for them and they’ll pull through.”