On Sunday, 2-year-old Hunter Kelley, of Pittsburg County, celebrated Christmas with his family, friends and community members. Hunter, who had his second birthday on Nov. 25, celebrated Christmas early this year because, by the time Dec. 25 actually rolls around, he may no longer have his eyesight.
Hunter has Bilateral Retinoblastoma, a rapidly developing cancer which develops in the cells of retina, the light detecting tissue of the eyes. Since his April 30 diagnosis, Hunter has endured four rounds of chemotherapy and 25 rounds of radiation treatment. Unfortunately, none of these treatments helped in removing the cancerous tumors from Hunter’s eyes.
The American Family Physician website says that “although new diagnostic and treatment methods allow for a high cure rate (93 percent five-year survival in the United States),” if Retinoblastoma goes untreated, “almost all patients die of intracranial extension and disseminated disease within two years.”
Hunter, who is already blind in his right eye due to a benign tumor growth, is scheduled to have his left eye surgically removed in December at St. Jude’s Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. And, although doctors are hopeful that this surgery will save Hunter’s life, it will also, unfortunately, take away Hunter’s eyesight.
In an effort to make sure Hunter got to see one last Christmas before his sight is gone, Cole and Kimberly Kelley, Hunter’s parents, along with their family and members of the community, came together recently and celebrated Christmas at the Choctaw Center.
Just after 2 p.m. Santa Claus, and one of his elves, arrived at the Choctaw Center in the Batmobile with a bag of Christmas gifts and young Hunter, after briefly talking with Santa outside, went right to opening his presents under the tree.
Pittsburg County Sheriff Joel Kerns said that his office had received a call some months back, from another county’s Sheriff Department, asking if they had a Santa suit, and someone that could play Santa for Hunter.
Not only did their office agree to the Santa task, they also put out a donation jar for Hunter. Hearing Hunter’s story compelled them to help, Kerns said. And then it just snowballed. People that saw the jar asked what it was, Kerns said, and then they too were compelled to help Hunter. It just blossomed and everyone wanted to help. Many people that saw the jar put in donations, Kerns said.
Officers, deputies, bonds agents, dispatchers and judges all helped in raising funds for Hunter. Pittsburg County Reserve Deputy Jerry Holloway volunteered to be Santa and Pittsburg County Detention Officer Colby Barnett volunteered to be Santa’s elf.
Randy and Debbie Roden volunteered to drive Santa to the party in their custom-built Batmobile. Other organizations that came together for Hunter and donated gifts and funds included: The Pittsburg County Sheriff Department, the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, Duff Propertys, Ashley bonds, Holden Bonds, United Way, A-OK Rail Road, Oklahomans for Independent Living and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“We got on the Internet and looked up some of the toys for seeing impaired people,” Kerns said. “There was a very limited amount of those toys available here in McAlester, so we sent some officers up to Muskogee to get these toys.
“It is such a sad situation, his story is so heartbreaking,” said Yvette Martin, executive director of United Way, Southeastern, Okla. “Although, it is good to know we got to be part of Hunter being able to see Santa for the last time.”
Hunter was smiling and laughing as he sat next to his mother, opening his presents, with the help of Santa and Santa’s elf. Hunter got to see Christmas this one last time.