The Edgemere community came out in droves this week for Ronnie Fortney, a 10-year-old Edgemere Elementary School student who had just wrapped up treatment for leukemia, which he had been fighting for over three years.
Fortney had already enjoyed a big day on Monday. He was finally able to “ring the bell,” an end-of-treatment ceremony held at the hospital where he has been toughing it through uncomfortable medical procedures since he was seven years old. On top of that, his 11th birthday is coming up.
But as he played with a toy drone outside of his family’s home that afternoon, he didn’t expect a parade of friends and teachers from school, neighbors, fire trucks, police cars and complete strangers would roll down Grace Road, bestowing him gifts, balloons and congratulations for his success in the battle against leukemia.
“It’s been such a crazy, up-and-down journey,” Fortney’s mother, Jessica Smyth, said on Monday. And when the treatment ends, “you just get punched in the gut.”
Fortney was diagnosed with leukemia in 2018 after his family became concerned about his sudden malaise and excessive sweating, as well as his unusual loss of appetite for an Edgemere Falcons football player.
Smyth was bombarded with medical terms as she spoke with nurses and doctors and followed the ambulance which carried her son around that day, but the shock set in for the family when a nurse told her that the medical team wasn’t quite sure if it was leukemia or lymphoma.
“At that moment, we were just crushed,” Smyth said.
The whole treatment process was a rollercoaster— the family stuck tight with Fortney during a rough beginning, celebrated when he was responding well to chemotherapy, and were crushed again when it started to affect his liver.
Having to watch her son deal with brittle bones, lost hair and days stuck inside was “gut-wrenching,” Smyth said.
“No child should ever have to go through that,” she added.
But when Fortney’s older sister, Emily, gave her brother his last doses of his daily barrage of therapeutics last week, it was a shock to the system.
“It’s just crazy, it’s just an amazing feeling of relief,” his mother said.
Monday’s parade was a finale to an outpouring of love for Fortney over the past few years, his family said, with messages and cards coming in frequently to the family’s doorstep, and school officials working hard to accommodate him.
One of the brighter moments during Fortney’s early battle came when his old elementary school class set up a video call to talk to their old friend, who was stuck inside because of his weakened immune system, Emily Smyth, his sister, said.
“They were always looking out for him,” she said, adding that one of the best moments through the whole journey was “seeing the light on his face” when he got to talk to his friends.