June 26, 2016

Partly sunny

Going bald for a buddy

John Gladden

WESTFIELD CENTER — No greater love has a boy than this — that he lay down his hair for his friend.

That’s just what seven boys did for their 12-year-old schoolmate, Riley Eby, on a brilliant, blue
Friday afternoon on the village square. One by one, with their parents and others looking on, they sat in the center of the gazebo where Halle Burgess, a part-time stylist with Carmon’s Cutting Edge in Lodi, plugged in her clippers and shaved their heads.

“I’ve been waiting for this all week,” said 11-year-old Max Herbert, who helped organize the recent after-school event. “It’s just so great we can do this for Riley.”

It was a way of showing solidarity with their friend, who has lost his hair while undergoing treatment for bone cancer, and a fundraiser to help Riley’s family with medical costs.

Riley Eby, 12, shaves the head of his friend Max Herbert, 11, while stylist Halle Burgess offers a hand. (John Gladden | Gazette)

On Feb. 18, Riley fell in gym class and bent back his right hand. He continued all his normal activities, but when it was still sore a few days later, his mom took him for an X-ray.

“They told me there was something wrong,” said Riley’s mother, Michelle Whittaker. Something more than a sore arm from an everyday fall.

It led to an MRI, which discovered a tumor in his right radius bone. That led to a biopsy and on March 9 a diagnosis of osteosarcoma.

“Within 30 days of the day he fell, he received his first chemotherapy treatment,” Michelle said.

Each year, just 400 kids in the entire country are diagnosed with osteosarcoma, she said. Right now, Riley is the only child being treated for it at Akron Children’s Hospital. He’ll have surgery to remove the tumor the first week of June, followed by additional treatment. His 29 weeks of chemotherapy will extend into autumn.

The community has rallied around Riley, hosting a benefit dinner and golf outing. He’s maintaining his studies with the help of a home tutor from Cloverleaf’s Westfield Upper Elementary. Riley will finish fifth grade on time with his classmates.

Naturally, there were kids who had questions: Can I get this? Am I in danger of having a tumor if I fall down?

Michelle said a health educator from the hospital came to talk with Riley’s fellow students to help them understand his diagnosis and treatment.

Tracy Herbert said that’s when her son, Max, and Grady Newman, 11, as well as some other boys, put their heads together — literally and figuratively.

“Max said, ‘I can’t even get a flu shot without crying,’ ” Tracy recalled, “and he (Riley) has to go through all this?”

Tracy made a few calls, but it was Max who rounded up his buddies. Each collected financial do-nations for Riley in exchange for shaving their hair. The boys raised more than $1,000.

“It’s all about standing behind him,” Tracy said. “He’s so brave.”

Joining Max and Grady in having their heads shaved were: Jeff Switzer, 12; Jimmy Harmon, 10; Noah Petitt, 11; Spencer Morgan, 10; and Brian Sanford, 11. All received a T-shirt with the words: “I shaved my head for Riley.”

The boys drank juice, downed food and played with a soccer ball on the square. Seville’s East of Chicago donated pizza and Bowtie Entertainment provided music, making the whole event feel festive. Best of all, Riley felt well enough to stay for most of it.

“This is the best he’s felt,” his mom said. “I was glad he was able to come.”

Riley even took a turn with the clippers when Max was in the barber’s chair. Afterward, Max stood up and rubbed his hands over his scalp.

“Whoa! I can feel my head!” he said.

Riley does have some experience with clippers, having shaved his 14-year-old brother Scott’s head at home.

“Sometimes he’s done some jokes on me, so this was kind of some payback,” Riley said with a smile.

Riley began to lose his hair just 10 days into chemotherapy, so Burgess came to his house to shave it off. Scott and a friend got theirs cut, too, to show their support.

Michelle said the family has been overwhelmed by the outpouring of care. She said they cried when they learned how much the boys had raised to help their friend.

“Every day, something positive happens,” she said.

Those who would like to post a message for Riley and his family or follow his progress can log on to www.caringbridge.org and type in “RileyEby,” all one word.

Contact John Gladden at gladden@ohio.net.