Kids dip into pockets, hearts to help a peer fulfill a dream



By Nikki Cobb

Indianapolis Star

June 14, 2002


Billy Gordon talks readily, even cheerfully, about the dozen or so surgeries he's endured since being diagnosed with hydrocephalus and a spinal cord tumor at age 5.

The Indianapolis youth openly describes how, at age 6, he had to relearn to walk and talk after a particularly devastating surgery. And the 12-year-old can discuss the illness that has robbed him of participating in basketball and football, and explain his illnesses -- water on the brain and the tumor -- with composure.

But it's when Billy -- who attends Pike Township's Lincoln Middle School part time -- recalls his worst moment that the tears come and the fear returns.

Billy was being wheeled into surgery (he can't remember how many he had had). His father, who had donned a surgical cap and gown to stay with him as long as he could, finally had to let go of his son's hand. He wasn't permitted to go into the operating room.

"I felt so alone, so scared," Billy remembers. "That was the worst time."

At that moment, the boy whose will and determination are an unfailing source of strength to those around him felt the overwhelming need for reassurance himself.

"You know, he thinks I can move the world for him," his father, Bill Gordon, said of that day. "I just wanted to tell him that everything was going to be OK. But I saw the operating room, all those scalpels -- and I was just as scared as he was."

Billy's story is a study in interdependence, of his dauntless attitude encouraging people around him while he draws inspiration from those who care for him.

Some of those he has touched have never met him. When Decatur Middle School's students took on the project of raising money to send Billy and his family to Florida through the Make-a-Wish Foundation, the response was enthusiastic and heartfelt.

"These kids were deeply moved" by his story, said Leah Dooley, a Decatur Middle School social worker who works with the foundation. "We have done projects like this in the past, but this year was the first time our students have actually gotten to meet the recipient.

"We had kids giving their life savings, or their vacation money. It was incredible."

After raising $2,555 toward a trip later this month to Discovery Cove and Sea World, where Billy will see his favorite marine animals with his two sisters, two brothers and parents, the Decatur students held a rally to celebrate the boy who was to benefit from their efforts.

On the day of the visit last February, a police escort accompanied Billy to the school. The halls were lined with cheering kids.

"It was a godsend, all that love and concern," said Cherise Gordon, Billy's mother.

Marcus Kowalewski, a seventh-grader at Decatur, had $200 saved up "to get something special." Moved by the loss of a cousin to leukemia, he decided that his savings would be best used to help send Billy to fulfill his dream of swimming with dolphins.

Tamra Browers also could empathize with a child's suffering and a family's pain. The eighth-grader's sister has spina bifida and "can't do much."

She gave $50, which she had saved toward a vacation of her own, because "it's wonderful to me, when I wake up and can say, I help wishes come true."

"The way the children responded was, well, it was something," said Bill Gordon. "Those kids are just a blessing."

This isn't the first time Billy has inspired extraordinary acts of caring.

After one surgery, self-conscious about his bald head and scars, he refused to return to class. His fourth-grade teacher at School 11, Kristina Campbell, sympathized.

"My students were all concerned," she said. "We just wanted to cheer him up." So she went to the hospital herself, bearing a videotape.

When she played it for him, he was surprised to see his classmates telling him they looked forward to his return.

The teacher's tactic worked. Billy's embarrassment gone, he returned to school.