The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Classmates, teachers bring cheer to hospitalized teen
BY AMY FLOWERS UMBLE
Last week, Amanda Weddle asked Santa for two Christmas wishes: a new tablet and to be home from the hospital.
Santa was mum on whether Amanda, who is in Mary Washington Hospital receiving chemotherapy, would get either wish.
But Amanda’s teachers at Stafford High School have made sure that her holiday will be merry, even if it’s spent in a hospital bed.
Amanda, who is 21 and has intellectual disabilities, has been in Sue Gammon’s special-education class for five years.
In that time, she’s grown close to Gammon and the classroom’s two paraprofessionals.
“I like them,” Amanda said. “They are special to me.”
The staff have taken Amanda and her classmates on overnight field trips to Virginia Beach, Luray Caverns and Baltimore. They’ve taken the class to a Washington Capitals game. To the grocery store. The library. And the YMCA.
To Amanda, her teachers and classmates have become like family.
And so when Amanda’s mom, Carol Weddle, learned on the day before Thanksgiving that Amanda has leukemia, one of the first calls she made was to Gammon.
The news seemed to come out of nowhere. A routine blood test found that Amanda’s white blood cell count was low. But doctors seemed sure that Amanda’s medicine caused the drop, Weddle said.
So she didn’t worry when they took Amanda off her medicine and repeated the test.
Then, at 8 p.m. the day before Thanksgiving, doctors called to tell Weddle her daughter has leukemia.
“We all were shocked,” Weddle said. “We never would have guessed she had cancer.”
She wasn’t sure how Amanda would handle the news. But Amanda took the cancer—and the hospitalization in stride, though it hasn’t been easy.
She has to stay at Mary Washington Hospital until her white blood cell count rises, something that’s taking longer than expected. Her prognosis is good, her mom said.
But the chemo makes Amanda sick and exhausted. And last week, she started losing her hair. Carol explained that the medicine makes it fall out, and that her hair will grow back.
As Amanda runs her hand through her hair, a new clump usually falls into her palm. Amanda calmly hands the dark strands to her mother.
“My hair,” she says simply.
“She’s been amazing,” Gammon said.
Gammon, Amanda’s teacher, had a hard time seeing Amanda in the hospital. Gammon’s mother died of cancer, and the teacher became emotional as the chemo wreaked havoc on Amanda’s body.
But Gammon has remained a faithful visitor. She alternates afternoon visits with her classroom’s paraprofessionals, Dona Banks and Ursula Brown.
Each day after school, one of the three is always at Amanda’s bedside. Their visits allow Carol to leave the hospital and take care of her grandchildren.
And the teachers are able to coax Amanda to eat. The chemo ruined her appetite, and Amanda has lost more than 20 pounds in four weeks.
Gammon often reads to Amanda in the afternoons, and she left a copy of
“The Polar Express.” There are many other signs that Amanda’s teachers have been by. The room is crammed with festivity—red and green paper chains, colorful posters with pictures of Stafford High staff and students, get-well cards, stuffed animals and balloons.
One of the school’s assistant principals also stopped by. And Thursday, Amanda’s keyboarding teacher dressed up as Santa to surprise his sick student.
Wayne Parker sat by Amanda’s bedside in red suit and white beard and listened as Amanda described the new tablet she hopes to get for Christmas.
Gammon and three of Amanda’s classmates delivered a basket overflowing with cards—170 of them, from her school’s students, teachers and faculty.
“Stafford High School rallies around its own when something like this happens,” said Gammon, who has taught at the school for more than 20 years.
Amanda tried to open all of the cards, reading their cheery messages of
“Merry Christmas!” and “Get Well Soon!”
But there were so many of them.
“You’ll be reading these for a long time,” Gammon laughed. “Your homework is to find 10 favorite cards so we can hang them on the walls.”
She wasn’t sure where they would hang the cards, though, as Amanda’s hospital room walls were already covered with cheerful cards, paper chains and posters.
“I stopped by to see her and I felt like I saw Christmas,” said family friend Melissa McClelland. “It made me feel so good in my heart.”
Amy Flowers Umble: 540/735-1973