Thursday, January 26, 2006
Variety show to aid ailing 7-year-old

Heart-to-Heart helping family while boy recovers

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By Bradford L. Miner TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF
bminer@telegram.com

Hunter Eccleston
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SPENCER— Seven-year-old Hunter Eccleston has been riding a medical roller coaster since mid-October and just now is showing signs of shaking a debilitating respiratory illness that almost killed him.

Sheree L. Jolicoeur, the nurse at Lake Street School, which Hunter attends, is teaming up with Richard Fiske of North Brookfield to help the first-grader over another incline.

Mr. Fiske's Heart-to-Heart Foundation, with the help of Mrs. Jolicoeur, will hold a benefit variety show at 2 p.m. March 5 at David Prouty High School to help the Eccleston family pay medical bills incurred since the onset of Hunter's illness. The goal of the show, which will have a country music theme, is to raise $8,000.

"I've known Hunter since he started in the Cub's Corner preschool program at Lake Street School," Mrs. Jolicoeur said. "He's energetic and a big boy. He's always been a lot of fun even though sometimes he's a handful for his parents."

Hunter has a younger sister, two older brothers at David Prouty High School and parents who have spent long hours at his bedside at the UMass Memorial Medical Center — University Campus in Worcester and the Franciscan Hospital for Children in Brighton for more than three months.

Hunter's asthma may have precipitated his recent respiratory problems, Mrs. Jolicoeur said.

Hunter was having trouble breathing Oct. 21 and his mother started asthma treatments, Mrs. Jolicoeur said. By Oct. 23, his breathing had become even more labored and he was taken to UMass Memorial, where he was admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit and placed on a respirator. Doctors initially believed he had pneumonia.

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"They kept him on the respirator for several days, but when his condition continued to worsen, doctors put him into a drug-induced coma," Mrs. Jolicoeur said. "They did a series of X-rays and concluded that his lungs were tight and hard, but they were never able to come up with a definitive diagnosis. They still don't know if the origin of illness was viral or bacterial," she said.

While in a coma, the boy developed a brain infection, and later developed pancreatitis, kidney failure and other complications, Mrs. Jolicoeur said.

"As a result of the coma and the steroids, Hunter's body was dramatically weakened and he lost a lot of muscle mass. Doctors brought him out of the coma, but kept him on a respirator through December, while they put him on the long road to recovery," she said.

Hunter was then transferred to Franciscan Children's Hospital, she said.

"The good news is that Hunter was weaned off the respirator a week or so ago, and is now breathing on his own. He is undergoing intensive physical therapy several hours a day to regain his strength and may be discharged from the hospital next week, but will still require extensive outpatient therapy," she said.

Joan Eccleston, Hunter's mother, had to give up her job as a school bus driver to be able to spend time with her son, and the experience has taken a toll on the Eccleston family physically, emotionally and financially, Mrs. Jolicoeur said.

The school community has rallied around the Eccleston family from the outset and has raised more than $1,500 in donations and the proceeds of school events, Mrs. Jolicoeur said.

"Because of the length of Hunter's illness, I knew that to make a real difference I would need help, and it was at that point that I got in touch with Dickie Fiske. ... He came to see me the same day I called him. I knew of Heart-to-Heart's track record and what they've done for other families, and we've been working to put together an afternoon of entertainment that will fill the auditorium at David Prouty High School to capacity," she said.

The featured performer at the three-hour variety show will be Daniel M. Clark, known as "the singing trooper," who retired from the Massachusetts State Police to pursue a singing career, Mr. Fiske said. Charlie Lask of Ware will perform his tribute to Neil Diamond, and Donna Lee Honeywell will perform a Patsy Cline tribute. Other scheduled performers included Heart-to-Heart regulars Gabriel Docimo and Jane Sterndale.

A bake sale, raffles, door prizes and a silent auction will be held before the program starts, Mrs. Jolicoeur said.

Tickets are available at all schools in Spencer and East Brookfield, at the Spencer Savings Bank and by calling Mr. Fiske at (508) 867-6283.