ATHENS, Ala. (WHNT) – WHNT NEWS 19 is sharing a special story about a Limestone County family forced to watch their youngest member in a terminal battle with brain cancer.
WHNT NEWS 19 learned of this family when a friend emailed our newsroom seeking help for a mom facing losing her son.
It’s the story of Ryan Kitchens, a 7-year-old boy from Athens who has little time left.
His family has been by his side every step of his battle, to their financial demise.
Now, while trying to soak up precious last moments with her son, Jasmine Davis is facing a cruel predicament: trying to gather enough money to bury him.
On this day, Jasmine Davis helps her son Ryan prepare a cup of macaroni and cheese.
“Stir it,” she tells Ryan.
It’s a good day for Ryan, eating his favorite meal, then playing video games.
He’s in fairly good spirits, talking about his favorite team, the Alabama Crimson Tide.
“They win every single game,” he says, lying comfortably in his bed. His room is dressed in everything Alabama.
He talked with WHNT NEWS 19 from his bed. It was a good day for him, despite his medulloblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer that’s spreading.
At just seven years old, he knows what’s coming.
“It’s gonna happen real soon,” he said softly.
He was only a first grader in 2011, when sickness landed him in the emergency room.
“They had to cat-scan me and then I had to drink stuff and then they rushed me into an ambulance,” Ryan said.
“He was put in an ambulance and we were gone,” said Jasmine Davis, Ryan’s mother about September 9th, 2011.
They were gone to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in Memphis for what would be seven months of medical procedures no child should have to endure: 31 rounds of radiation, four huge and harsh chemo treatments and stem cell transplants, all to get rid of two tumors.
His mother, living out of a suitcase, stayed by his side, while his three sisters and stepfather continued life in Limestone County as best they could. It took a toll on them all emotionally and financially.
“We never asked for help,” said Jasmine. “I mean, people did help, but we tried to do it on our own.”
By April 2012, she says word came Ryan was finally cancer free and could come home.
The nightmare was over, so they thought — until July.
“It just popped up and then I said, ‘Momma, it’s back.. Momma, it’s back’,” Ryan recalled.
“I said, ‘Baby, it can’t be back. We just got home. You have so much chemo still running through you.. it can’t be,” said Jasmine recalling her reaction to Ryan. “But I called his doctors anyway.”
Within days, it was confirmed. Ryan was right. His doctors said there was nothing more that could be done.
Ryan told his mother he just wanted to go home and play. He was, in a child’s way, begging for normalcy even it was only going to be for a short time.
“We go each day as normal as we can,” said Jasmine about how the family now approaches Ryan and what they’ve been told to expect. “You know, three screaming sisters. We try to go out to eat as much as we can. We’re cramming a lot into the small time that we have and he understands why.”
Friends threw Jasmine and her fiance a surprise wedding earlier in October.
Ryan walked her down the aisle and gave her a special ring and then gave her away.
“You said ‘I love you and you’ll be my Mommy forever’, said Jasmine to Ryan about that special moment at Monte Sano State Park.
It was a much-needed break from this cruel predicament. But then, it was back to reality.
“Are you scared for your Mom?” asked WHNT NEWS 19’s Beth Jett. Ryan nodded as his eyes welled up with tears. Then he broke down sobbing.
Despite his tears, Jasmine says Ryan insisted on helping with his final arrangements, asking for a crimson-themed casket.
He still hopes he might somehow beat the cancer.
At his crying, Jasmine comes to his bedside and snuggles him, wiping his tears and whispering to him, “You’re doing great today, you know. You’re still strong.”
But even as Jasmine comforts her youngest child, in the back of her mind is how she’ll be able to say goodbye.
She spelled it out on a fundraising website, writing “I’m scared I won’t have enough to bury my baby.”
“The first place I called said it would be $9,000 to bury my son,” she recalled. “I’m like, ‘we don’t have $9,000,’ and they were like ‘that’s what it is’.”
Since then, she found another funeral home that is more flexible. But the costs of the plot, the headstone and other things still comes to more than she has. The family is taking it one day at a time.
“If they can find a new chemo, that would be better,” said Ryan with a hopeful voice. “You’re still fighting?” asked Beth Jett. He nodded.
“We really don’t have a time frame,” said Jasmine. “What the doctors tell us is before Christmas. We’re hoping, that you know, for a miracle and get him longer.”
Ryan’s 8th birthday is December 28th.
Ryan goes for regular appointments, but he won’t go for another MRI to check on his tumors until January.
If you can help this family, please do so by making a donation of any amount to any branch of Wells Fargo Bank. Checks should be made out to the Ryan Kitchens Donation Fund. If you don’t live near a Wells Fargo, you can mail it to this location:
409 Madison Street SE
Huntsville, AL 35801
Attn: Ryan Kitchens Donation Fund
UPDATE: One day after the story aired on WHNT News 19, donations had poured in. Those of you who watched this story responded in a huge way, giving generously. Ryan’s family and WHNT News 19 sincerely thank you. The total just after 4 p.m. Friday, October 12 was $16,400 and still going strong.
We would also like to say a special thank you to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in Memphis for allowing use of footage of Ryan receiving treatment in their facility. You can see the entire video by clicking here.
Special thanks also to Courageous Photography for providing the wedding pictures of Jasmine, her husband Greg, and Ryan. They specialize in capturing precious moments of terminally ill patients spending time with their loved ones while still healthy. Courageous Photography Foundation is a non-profit organization. You can learn more about it by clicking here.
WHNT NEWS 19 will continue following Ryan’s journey and praying for miracles for this family caught in such a cruel predicament.