School rallies around student fighting illness

Posted February 19, 2016 at 12:00 am

The Catholic Commentator

Marley Harris was happy as can be on Nov. 7 as she watched “The Peanuts Movie” with her friend and classmate at Our Lady of Mercy School, Laura Purgerson. Little did anyone know then that just a couple of days later, Harris would be taken to Our Lady of the Lake Hospital barely able to walk and diagnosed with ependymoma, a brain tumor that arises from the spinal cord.

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With Marley Harris, second from left, at the Mercy for Marley fund raiser are OLOM cheerleaders, from left, Chandler Wright, Lucy Laville, and Jeanne Theriot. Photo provided by Christy Haldane | Our Lady of Mercy School


“I thought, ‘are you sure you have the right child?’ She’s perfectly healthy,” said Marley’s mother, Naoshia Carroll, in a phone interview from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, where they have been staying since the diagnosis.

Purgerson and her mother, Blair, raced to the hospital to see Marley off before she was airlifted to St. Jude. She underwent an 11-hour surgery, which did not remove all the tumor. Since then, she has undergone further surgery and received radiation and chemotherapy treatments.

In the midst of the whirlwind of activity and emotions, the wheels were in motion to bring the love and support of the Our Lady of Mercy community, which was as powerful as the troubling events for the Harris family.

“I received a phone call early Monday morning that they had found a tumor in Marley and they were having to go to St. Jude. As soon as I got off the phone, I said it’s time to let the school know. I started getting in touch with the principal and teachers,” Blair Purgerson said.

Harris’ fourth-grade class prayed a rosary at Mary’s chapel in the church.

“It was really reverent,” said Purgerson. “Some were Catholic, some weren’t. But all the students will remember that.”

Planning then began for a special fund raiser for St. Jude and for Marely’s family, “Mercy for Marley” on Jan. 26. Organizers contacted St. Jude and planned a fun evening for the family.

Purgerson and co-chair Ashley Thom said their expectations were modest. A cold, rainy forecast also threatened to curtail the event.

There was no need to fear, however, because the response wildly exceeded their expectations. While they thought that 250 people might show up, there were 900. The gym and school cafeteria were packed. Their original goal was to raise $5,000 and they received $26,485.44 and counting, with about $13,500 given to Carroll, a single mother who has struggled financially while caring for her daughter. All this accomplished through volunteer efforts, said Purgerson and Thom, who stressed that it could not have happened without the efforts of so many people.

The cold, rainy day did not dampen the enthusiasm as the students walked under the school overhangs for their fund raiser walk and the following activities were moved inside. Those included: Simon Says, sack races, face painting, ping pong, hoola hoops, tug-of-war and a cake walk.

The food, which Thom and Purguson were grateful to Paul Catalanatto for handling, was a huge success. Volunteers served 350 bowls of jambalaya, 100 bowls of macaroni and cheese, 240 hamburgers, 330 hot dogs and 300 bags of popcorn. When the food ran out, 30 more pizzas were ordered.

“They kept coming and coming, it was wild,” said Catalanatto.

Marley’s family had heard that the event was being organized and was so touched they said they had to come. There, again, were some “what ifs,” as to whether Marley would be feeling well and whether her white blood cell count would allow her to attend. But all went well, and after her last doctor appointment, she and her mother got on the road to Baton Rouge.

“She was really excited,” said Carroll. “She was so happy to be with everyone.”

Though tired, Marley, who started OLOM as a pre-kindergartner, smiled and laughed and spoke to the people to say “Thanks.”

“It was a fun event and being with Marley was great,” said Laura Purgerson. “I was so happy she was able to come back to our school and see everyone. I liked how the whole school showed their love and support for my best friend.”

Right after her “Cinderella moment,” Marley was back on the road to St. Jude. Doctors have found other tumors, and she will undergo further treatment. But her mother is undaunted.

“She’s a fighter. She’s a real trooper,” said Carroll.

In the spirit of the faith family that rallied behind them, Carroll confidentially said, “God is going to heal her. Everything is going to be fine.”