Ty-ing the community together

Armatage school staff and community members rallied last month for a second grader with cancer

The old adage that it takes a village to raise a child is taken seriously in Armatage, if what the community did May 30 for eight-year-old Ty Schraeder is any indication.

Hundreds of parents, children, school staff and others converged on Armatage Community & Montessori School that day in support of Ty, a second grader there who has been battling an acute form of leukemia since January. Family and friends shaved their heads, school staff worked a food line, a band named Rhino played familiar songs, kids bounced in an inflatable jumper and at the end of the day, Ty’s family had nearly $5,000 in donations for medical expenses.  

“It’s just amazing that people that may not even know you very well will go out of their way to do this for somebody, to help,” said Ty’s step-mom-to-be Paulette Felling. “It’s just amazing. I’ve never met such kind-hearted people coming through this school in my life.”

Ty was diagnosed early this year after struggling with massive headaches, a double ear infection, bruising and other health issues. His father, Eric Shraeder was convinced something was seriously wrong, though doctors initially found nothing out of the ordinary.

“Every week he was sick and I kept taking him in and (doctors) said ‘nope everything’s fine,’” Schraeder said.

A blood test eventually found the problem — acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a fast-growing cancer that a couple weeks prior to diagnosis would have been difficult to find, Schraeder said. If tested a couple weeks later, the cancer would have been far more advanced.

As it was, Ty’s initial bone marrow biopsy showed 85 percent leukemia cells. He immediately started treatment, which included spinal taps, chemotherapy and other procedures.

The news shocked Ty’s family and the broader community, which quickly rallied around the second grader, donating food and offering support.  

“It was very sad,” said Ty’s neighbor and good friend Mariah Wendland, 10.  “My sisters and I started crying because we were very best friends with him.”

A further complication was that Schraeder, a tech sergeant with the U.S. Air Force’s 934th Air Lift Wing, was supposed to head to Iraq in the spring. He had already served four tours there and two in Afghanistan as a loadmaster on a C130 transport plane.

So far, the Air Force has been lenient about letting Schraeder stay home with his son, but he doesn’t know how long that will last.   

“For the most part, the Air Force treats me very well in dealing with Ty,” said Schraeder, who is marrying Felling in August. The family also includes Ty’s 9-year-old sister Alyssa, who also goes to school in Armatage.  

After his diagnosis, Ty attended school when he could and his teacher, Tricia O’Donnell made a point of home tutoring him twice a week, a service the school district offers to students who miss more than 15 days of class. O’Donnell said she also had a Children’s Hospital nurse talk to the class about leukemia, so they could better understand Ty’s situation, and she set up a futon for him in the classroom so he could rest.

Armatage principal Joan Franks, whose husband has leukemia, said Ty has done his best to act like a normal kid.

“He certainly is a trooper in that he tries to participate as much as he can,” Franks said.

Franks worked a lunch line at the May 30 event, spearheaded by parent volunteers and Lisa Stearns, whose niece attends the school.  

“This came about because leukemia is something that can strike one of our kids any day,” Stearns said. “Raising kids, it takes a full community sometimes to do it.”

Ty was considered in remission only a couple weeks after his diagnosis, but he still has three years of treatment left and a lifetime of check-ups.

Other than his hairless head, he looks the part of a normal eight-year-old. He missed out on playing baseball this spring, but he rides his bike, swims and does other typical kid stuff, like asking his parents for a hamster to play with the family dogs Twinkie and Nugget.  

Ty knows what leukemia is, but you wouldn’t know it from his smiling eight-year-old face, except for when Felling asked if he was thankful for the community’s support. His answer: A silent, serious nod. 

Reach Jake Weyer at 436-4367 or [email protected]