Nicole and Chris Clark know just how much the support of friends and the community can lift the human spirit and help people through the toughest of times.
The Canton couple’s 9-year-old son Nathan recently spent nearly a month in two hospitals as doctors attempted to pinpoint the cause of his sudden-onset seizures. It was a tough summer of tests, medicines, hospital rooms, physical and mental challenges and few medical answers.
But the family has also been overwhelmed by community members who visited their son in Hartford and Boston, took care of his younger brother, stocked their refrigerator, sent cards, purchased gifts, organized a welcome home party/fundraiser and much more.
“The people in this town are pretty amazing,” Chris Clark said.
Nathan’s troubles started in mid July while the Clarks were in Rhode Island with the Moellendorf family.
The families are close and Nathan like a sibling to the Moellendorf kids — Jakob, Niklas and Elisa.
But the trip was a farewell of sorts as the Moellendorfs were getting ready for a move back to their native Germany.
Nathan was distraught about the move and the weekend before the trip, he developed a fever and suffered from headaches and lack of energy, his mother Nicole said.
Nathan made the trip but on the way home — with his friends in the car, started making a strange noise.
The family soon found themselves in a Westerly hospital and learned Nathan had a seizure.
Hospital personnel believed they found some bacteria in his left lung and Nathan was sent home with antibiotics, his mother Nicole said. They made it home at 2 a.m. but an hour later, Nathan had another seizure, something that would continue every few hours. The seizures would continue for the next month.
During the ordeal Nathan continued to have many seizures, especially when he feel asleep. As he went through it, the tests and medicine, other problems resulted as well, including bouts of paranoia and hallucinations. One morning he even asked his mother who she was.
“It was like the brain reset when he feel asleep,” Nicole said.
During their time in the hospitals, many in Canton showed amazing support, the Clarks said.
In addition to the help at home, several friends also came to visit Nathan, even in Boston.
Nathan is an avid athlete and much of the help came from soccer and baseball coaches and teammates.
Rapids soccer coach Chris Weller was a frequent visitor and families of team members even purchased Nathan an iPad, allowing him to play games and retain his status as a respected member of Red Sox Nation.
Nicole said she had to convince Nathan he deserved it. She said it was another example of his graciousness through it all — even to the point of saying thank you to his care providers.
“This boy is just the most incredible child,” Nicole Clark said. “He would thank the nurses no matter what they did to him. “
At home those who couldn’t visit still sent their well wishes and wanted to stay updated.
That became overwhelming so after some hesitation, Nicole started a Caring Bridge Web page to update friends and family on Nathan’s progress.
It turned out to be a blessing. Not only could she keep people updated but many friends sent Nathan messages on the site. His spirits were lifted as he heard from friends and realized how many people cared, even older children.
“I got a lot of notes from 5th- and 6th-graders who had just played sports with me,” Nathan said. “It made me feel really good.”
Nicole welcomed the support also but of course continued to struggle with her son’s condition and the failure to find a cause. On Aug. 9 she wrote:
“I wish I could hug each one of you. Every time we read a post, comment, or text we are rejuvenated and it helps give us the strength we need to keep on keeping on. So many of you say that you feel helpless, but just keep those messages coming, and I promise that is helping us. I feel helpless sometimes also. When I look at this sweet perfect boy who always thanks his nurse or doctor whenever they do anything to him, I can't help but wonder why him? Why this beautiful precious boy? I want to take all of this away from him. I've heard people say that before, but I could not have understood that feeling totally before this. I wish it was me in that bed. He's being so incredibly patient, it just breaks my heart.”
By mid August the Clarks still had no answer as to what caused the seizures. They still don’t but found out that is often the case.
“Sometimes, seizures are triggered by a disease or injury, but for most children, there is no detectable cause,” the Boston Children’s web site states.
But the incidents came under control and on Aug. 14, the family was able to come home.
Nicole wrote on the site, “Sitting on the couch with my 3 favorite guys. Never felt so good.”
They came home to banners, cards and much more. It didn’t end there.
After giving Nathan some time to adjust, friends hosted a welcome home party at Valley Sports Center and a subsequent fundraiser at La Trattoria.
Youth Sport coach and family friend Mark Puglielli said the efforts raised $5,300 for the family
Puglielli said the events were great on many levels. Approximately 150 kids came to welcome Nathan home, he said. In addition businesses, youth sports teams and many others donated items for a silent auction. The Substitutes, which includes Cherry Brook Primary School principal Andy Robbin and 6th-grade teacher Patrick Allen, provided entertainment and many others pitched in to organize it all.
“It was really a group effort,” Puglielli said. “Everyone stepped up to the plate.”
Paul Amrose, a family friend who coached Nathan in Little League All Stars said he was just amazed at all the support.
“They just came out of the woodwork,” he said. “I’ve never been involved in something like that in a community that came together so quickly.”
The Moellendorfs were even in on the fun.
They had been heartbroken to say goodbye in a hospital room but saw some of the positive too by connecting with Nate via Skype at the hospital and the welcome home party.
“It’s good to see how great the community is in Canton,” Kai Moellendorf said. “Truly unique and we miss it.”
Moellendorf said the ordeal puts life in perspective. He and so many others have pointed to the strength of the Clarks.
“Also unbelievable how Nicole and Chris worked through this together,” Moellendorf said. “What a challenge to go through, one you never wish anybody to experience.”
Many have praised the Clark’s strength but Nicole said it's just what any parent would do.
“You don’t have a choice,” Nicole Clark. “If you have a child you understand. You would do anything for him.”
Nathan is slowly getting back into his life although he has been tired, often attending school half a day.
Nicole is still cautious in her optimism. Nathan is slowly being weaned off several seizure medicines and being watched carefully.
But while they have no medical answers the Clarks are convinced the answers partially lie with Nathan’s spirits. They believe his sorrow over the Mollendorfs move contributed to the condition, just as they are convinced that the support of friends helped pull him out of it.
“His friends really made him better,” Chris Clark said.
The Clarks said they wish to thank all of those who helped during their son’s ordeal. Please see their letter here.