One Monday night in 2005, Irma and Simmie McNeal Jr. and their two sons, Simeon, then 10, and Sean, 8, were at an Adel restaurant with six others planning a fundraiser for an 8-year-old boy with a brain tumor.
The next night, the McNeals were at Shands Hospital in Gainesville, Fla., learning their own 8-year-old son had a brain tumor, which had caused the youngster to suffer a stroke.
September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Quota International of Valdosta and South Georgia Rivers RV Club are preparing for the fourth annual blood drive, this year in honor of Sean McNeal.
The youngest of the McNeals’ six children, Sean was a second grader at Faith Christian School in 2005. He loved trucks and pushing the tire swing for the first graders.
“He was so proud everyone said he was the best tire swing pusher,” said his dad, a retired human-resources manager with BASF in Sparks.
But on April 26, 2005, Sean passed out at school and was rushed to South Georgia Medical Center.
“They said he had a lot of bleeding on the brain and that he was very, very sick,” said his mom, a former instructor in the literacy program at Valdosta Technical College, now Wiregrass Georgia.
Sean was transported to Shands, where he was diagnosed with a Grade 3 malignant brain tumor (Anaplastic Astrocytoma), and his tumor was removed the next day, his dad said.
The second grader spent 30 days at Shands before he was transferred to Scottish Rites Hospital in Atlanta for 90 days of additional rehabilitation.
“The combined stroke and brain tumor left him with eight other diagnoses,” his dad said. “Though not on life support, he is 100 percent dependent for his daily care.”
Eleven years before Sean’s brain tumor, Simmie McNeal had begun volunteering with the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life.
“I saw so many families touched by cancer,” he said.
“Obviously, we wouldn’t want our son to be sick,” his mom said, “and it hurts, but we don’t feel we’ve been singled out. This has brought our immediate and extended families even closer together.”
The Valdosta couple are members of The Rock Church on Old Clyattville Road.
“We are people of faith, and that is the real source of our encouragement,” Simmie McNeal said. “In addition to our biological family, we have had the support of our church family, co-workers and friends.”
Sean’s 93-year-old grandmom comes from Dade City, Fla., from time to time “spending time praying for him and believing for his full recovery,” his mom said.
“We have seen so much healing in his body that we have hope, faith.”
“We continue to believe that Sean’s miracle is on the way,” his dad added.
Irma McNeal began a web page at www.caringbridge.org/ga/seanstruckstop (so named for Sean’s love of trucks) during his time in the hospital, and it has had more than 15,000 hits, his dad said.
She has also written a book, “Sean, The Tire Swing Pusher,” which is in its third printing. The book is available at The Potter’s House Parable Christian Store, at the Caring Bridge website, and from Irma McNeal at 249-8156.
“Sean did have to have blood in the ICU during those critical times,” his mom said, “so we know firsthand the importance of having an adequate supply of blood on hand in time of need.”
The blood drive, sponsored by Quota International of Valdosta and South Georgia Rivers RV Club, is set for 2-7 p.m., Sept. 6, Valdosta Church of Nazarene, 4434 Forrest St. Ext.
At A Glance
What: Blood Drive in honor of Sean McNeal and September as Childhood Cancer Awareness Month
When: 2-7 p.m., Sept. 6
Where: Valdosta Church of Nazarene, 4434 Forrest St. Ext.
Sponsors: Quota International of Valdosta and South Georgia Rivers RV Club