By Robyn Baer, Fort Sill CannoneerJuly 2, 2009
He's probably Fort Sill's youngest colonel, but 10-year-old Kevin Smith deserves it, at least according to his brother Pfc. Michael Grossman, who graduated from basic training June 26.
Kevin is just a normal little boy from Suffolk County, N.Y., except for the fact that he's battled leukemia for two years. The Make-A-Wish Foundation granted Kevin his wish of bringing his entire family to his brother's graduation.
Make-A-Wish "always asks that child, 'If you could do anything in the world, what is the most important thing right now for you to do to make you happy'' And for Kevin, that was to come to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and see his brother graduate from boot camp and to be with his family, and that's pretty awesome," said Brenda Spencer-Ragland, Kevin's wish assistor. "I find with these kids that they're little kids who are given these adult-sized issues, and in their wish, they're always trying to give back to other people."
Make-A-Wish went all out for Kevin. He got to be a Soldier for a day, complete with a uniform, boots, dog tags and a beret, not to mention colonel rank.
"Most of our children who are facing some type of life-threatening illness, there's normally a lot of medical treatments involved," said Spencer-Ragland. "And when there's a lot of medical treatments involved, there's a lot of stress on the family. And it's not just the child. The child of course is going through a tremendous amount of stress, but also the family is. We try to take that away. Basically the kids are facing adult-sized issues. So we're trying to help the child overcome adult-sized obstacles. What can be more powerful than making a wish come true' The goal is to bring some magic and some fun and excitement so they can forget about the medical condition that they're dealing with, so they can just be a kid.
"Any time you have a child who's facing a life-threatening illness, the doctor's expenses are incredible. You have the medical, all the additional child care, the gas. It's just astronomical what these families have to do. You don't want the children to suffer unduly because of the illness. We want to take that away give them a little extra special love and care."
Kevin got VIP treatment at Fort Sill, touring the museum, eating at a dining facility, seeing the commanding general's house, as well as doing some sightseeing off post.
"It's wonderful for us to be able to show him what his brother has been doing and what his life will be like as a Soldier," Spencer-Ragland said. "That's our goal, to let them experience military life. It's opening up our world, which we take for granted quite honestly."
Like other children who use the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Kevin was facing a life-threatening illness.
In 2007, Kevin's family noticed that Kevin had enlarged lymph nodes. His mother, Leslie, took him to the doctor and he was given antibiotics. When after two weeks the lymph nodes hadn't shrunk, Kevin had further tests done at the hospital, where he was diagnosed with leukemia.
They started treatment right away, and Kevin responded well to the treatment. It seemed he was in remission until his symptoms came back even worse. Kevin relapsed twice before having a bone marrow transplant from his 3-year-old sister, Corin.
"Each relapse got worse," said Leslie. Each time Kevin had to go through a round of intense chemotherapy. He even had a bad reaction to a spinal tap, which paralyzed him from the neck down for several weeks.
"I had to feed him, pick him up; I had to be his legs, his mouth,' Leslie said. "He couldn't talk. Nothing worked except his eyes. But little by little he came back."
She said she was away from the family for months of treatment and had to live in the hospital with Kevin.
"That was the hardest thing, I think," she said.
Kevin's dad, Todd Smith, helped take care of their daughters while Leslie took care of Michael in the hospital.
"I kept them a lot in prayer," he said. "It was discouraging that I couldn't be there, but I had my Lord. I knew the Lord had a shield around him, that he was present when I wasn't able to be."
The Smiths refused to let Kevin's disease defeat them but instead used it as an opportunity to help other families that didn't have hope.
"There were people who needed words of encouragement and faith," Leslie said. "We used it the way God wanted us to use it."
Kevin had the bone marrow transplant in November of 2008. He is now cancer-free. Today, Kevin looks just like any other 10-year-old.
"He hasn't had any trace of the cancer for months," Leslie said. "Most kids with leukemia don't qualify for a transplant because of all their bodies have been through, but Kevin was in better shape than most. It's just amazing."
Make-A-Wish followed Kevin's progress for two years, but he was never well enough to travel. His original wish was to go to Disneyland, but since he only recently became well enough to travel, Kevin decided to opt for a wish that would being his entire family together.
"Kevin and Michael are as close as two brothers can be," said Leslie.
Michael said they do everything together, and Kevin said he thinks it's cool that his brother gets to shoot artillery.
"I knew that I would have to leave my family,' Grossman said. "It was definitely hard not seeing them, but I knew I'd see them again."