FLORENCE, Ala. — Saturday afternoon, a crowd of people gathered in the parking lot of Mars Hill Bible School in Florence, lining the entrance in preparation for a precious homecoming.
They were awaiting the arrival of 8-year-old Cole Kelley. He’s a 2nd grader at Mars Hill but he’s spent 460 days of his life at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.
“He’s had three stem cell transplants, numerous tests, and he’s lived off of blood transfusions since he was two months old so it’s been a journey his entire life to this point,” said family friend Emily Stutts.
Cole has Diamond-Blackfan anemia, a rare blood disorder where the body doesn’t make enough red blood cells. The disease causes a decreased amount of oxygen to be delivered to his organs. He’s doing better, but the journey continues.
Parade-goers were excited about Cole and his family’s return.
“We couldn’t have gotten through it without these people just wrapping their arms around us and loving us and loving Cole so much,” said cousin Sara Beth Searcy.
Rogan Willingham is a good friend of Cole’s; he said, “I’m feeling good; I’m glad he’s back.”
With the sounding of the sirens from Florence Fire and Rescue, Florence Police, and the Lauderdale County Sheriff’s Office, Cole Kelley made his triumphant return.
Cole still has a long road ahead. He and his family will travel back to the National Institutes of Health once a month for check-ups and to Vanderbilt to monitor his liver.
If you'd like to follow Cole's journey on Facebook, click here.