After his weekly spinal tap, there’s only one place Robert Hart wants to visit.
“A lot of times he wakes up from his spinal tap and says ‘Can I go to the treasure box?’” Robert’s mother, Kasie Hart, said. “But he’s been disappointed.”
Robert, a 9-year-old cancer patient, goes to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston weekly for the treatment. To ease the discomfort and scariness of the procedure, the hospital has a treasure box for children to collect a small toy.
“He was looking through it one day and it was just the same few things,” Hart said. “He said ‘Do you think we could buy stuff for the treasure box? Because there’s nothing in here.’”
Robert gave up his allowance and asked family and friends to pitch in so he could collect enough toys to share with the other children being treated at the hospital.
“The next day, two days later, I had at least six or seven huge boxes on my front porch,” Hart said. “Like (the other day), I took an entire carload. I had packed everything nicely in boxes to try to make it less for me to carry but the entire back of my car was full.”
The donations are small, costing only around $1-$2 and no more than $5. It’s not so much about the toy itself, but the distraction it provides a child who just underwent a painful procedure.
“Legos are a big hit,” Hart said. “Those are the pricier items, obviously, but everyone loves those.”
Robert was first diagnosed with high-risk acute lymphoblastic leukemia as a kindergartner in December 2010. Three years later, in January, he was informed the cancer was back after being in remission.
“He was supposed to be finished (with treatment) in April,” his mom said. “His end-of-treatment date was April of this year. It was such a blow.
“The first time we heard he had leukemia, it was bad,” she said. “But the day we heard he relapsed was just devastating. The treatments he goes through to save his life can cause so many long-term side effects. It’s scary.”
Robert is now on a new chemotherapy drug, and he goes back to the hospital today as an inpatient.
“Technically it’s supposed to be only three days, but according to the doctor the new chemo he’s going to get is going to make him very susceptible to fevers,” Hart said.
“Any time, if he gets a fever, they’ll keep him. So the three days could easily turn into several weeks pretty quickly.”
Robert goes into the hospital with the full support of his classmates and teachers at Spout Springs School of Enrichment, with the school organizing a team for the annual Relay for Life event in his honor.
“Robert loves Legos and so our theme is ‘Don’t LEGO of Hope: Building a Cure,’” fifth-grade teacher Stacia Charpiat said. “We have started a coin-collecting campaign along with selling (paper) Lego blocks for $1 (to line the hallways).”
Robert’s teacher, Katie Gowder, said the school hasn’t had a Relay for Life team in some time.
“About the same time we agreed to do the new team, he got rediagnosed,” Gowder said. “So it’s a good thing we are making so much awareness about it.”
As of Friday, students had raised around $1,000 and are continuing their fundraising efforts during Childhood Cancer Awareness week, March 24-28.
“He’s just a super special kid,” Gowder added. “He just has a huge heart.”
Relay for Life is being held May 2 at Road Atlanta. To donate to the Spout Springs team, Gowder said people can visit relayforlife.org/hallga.
“That boy still smiles every day,” Hart said. “Robert cares about others and although he is going through the hardest time of his life, he just wants to help bring smiles to other kids’ faces who are enduring the same awful treatments. We are so proud of him.”