Niagara Gazette

February 7, 2013

Lew-Port students' battle against leukemia and lymphoma is personal for one of their own

by Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — $2,439. 

It doesn't seem like a lot of money in today's corporate-driven world, but it's a number near and dear to the hearts of Lewiston-Porter Middle School. In conjunction with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, the school's students, staff and community supporters raised that figure in just a few weeks time in January, through the Pennies for Patients campaign.

They had a little motivation, though. A beloved member of the community, 18-year-old Tyler Midgley, just recently learned he had leukemia and served as the building's honored hero for the campaign. He was at the school last week when organizers revealed the total donation to the student body live on the school's announcements.

"I saw the figure and I was speechless," Midgley said. "It was just like 'Whoa, wow.'"

The money, which will be donated to the Western New York Chapter of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, will help fund four research projects and ease the suffering of countless patients throughout the area.

Midgley's popularity in the Lew-Port community is longstanding, but partially stems from his involvement in The Brass Monkeez, where he served as drummer for the wildly popular music group throughout his high school career. But the band members have gone their separate ways, as Midgley graduated in June and headed to Potsdam University this past summer. It was there that his life changed in the blink of an eye.

He said he noticed a rash developing on his hands and it quickly spread all over his body when he returned to Lewiston for a surprise party for his mother. The family advised him to go to the school's health office when he returned, which did some preliminary blood work. A few days later, they gave him a referral to Syracuse's Upstate Hospital where he learned his prognosis.

"They told me best-case it could be an infection, and the worst-case scenario was leukemia," he said. "I went into it assuming the worst, so I wasn't as surprised (by the diagnosis) as you may think. I didn't think it was fair and all of that. But luckily I have a type that's very curable and treatable, so that was good to hear."

Midgley started treatments at Roswell Park Cancer Institute immediately, pulling out of college. He lives at home with his family, going for chemotherapy to combat the blood cancer. He sees some of his friends when he can. He and his father both shaved their heads together in solidarity.

Life still isn't normal, but he said he's working to win.

Back at the middle school, nurse Maureen Schug said the Pennies for Patients campaign, which asks students and staff to donate loose change, hadn't been done in a few years. So she dusted it off in recognition of Midgley, a close, personal friend of her family, and got to work.

She set a goal of $1,000 and promoted the effort through the school's daily announcements. Schug used the time well, providing daily bits of information for the students about leukemia and even inviting Midgley to come in and talk to the students about his experiences.

The final figure blew her away, though. The school's generosity blew her away too.

"It's fantastic," she said after revealing the dollar amount. "The kids here are amazingly generous."

The school's staff and its administration also heavily supported the drive, as principal Dean Ramirez recognized the chance to support on of the community's most beloved young people. He said the school's been rocked pretty hard in recent years by The Big C, as cancer is sometimes called, and the drive just served as the latest way to fight back against its devastating effects.

"It's a topic we take seriously here," Ramirez said. "If one of our own gets sick, we're here to support each other. Doing things like this, seeing the results, it gives you the fuel to go through the trials and tribulations of running a school. In a world where there's violence in schools, having something like this is important."