Circling the bases with Jordan Leandre: Young cancer survivor continues to thrive

August 28, 2013 - 6:31 am

THE HOME RUN TROT signified every piece of hell he had endured. Circling first base, the boy ran off all the pain. He had basically lived his whole life in Children'€™s Hospital, suffering through eight surgeries. But once he placed his foot on second, he waved goodbye to the years stuck in a wheelchair and later handcuffed by a full body cast. Rounding third, he had the green light to score. He finally left behind the living hell of cancer. Two months before the Red Sox captured the World Series in 2007, in the midst of a day-night doubleheader against the Angels, a 7-year-old cancer patient circled the bases in the most meaningful round-tripper that has never been listed on a stat sheet in the 101-year history of Fenway Park. And, six years later, Jordan Leandre is cancer-free. "I actually wasn'€™t supposed to be running," the 13-year-old Leandre admits now. That morning, doctors cleared Leandre to walk short distances. His wheelchair was still required for anything substantial like, say, a baseball diamond. But after Leandre sang the national anthem during the Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon, he couldn'€™t resist the opportunity. "I don'€™t think anyone was really expecting that," Leandre said. Running the bases felt exactly like he dreamed it would. "It was nice to have everyone applauding," he said. "And I loved how it got louder after every base I hit." "We barely received permission for him to walk that morning," said Ken Leandre, Jordan'€™s father. "I figured he was just going to peel off at first. But there he goes, he takes off, and it brought tears to my eyes. To see that big smile, it was just amazing, raw emotion that I couldn'€™t hide. I couldn'€™t believe he did it." Jordan was exhausted after the run. He left before the end of the game, carried in his father'€™s arms all the way back to Children'€™s Hospital.

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WHENEVER JORDAN LEANDRE hears someone tell him he can'€™t, he says he can. Jordan was born on July 31, 2000, the day of an 8-5 Red Sox victory over the Mariners. Even though Ewing'€™s sarcoma, a rare bone disease, is more prevalent among adolescents and teenagers, Jordan was 2 years old when doctors diagnosed him with the cancer. Ewing'€™s sarcoma can spread quickly, becoming lung cancer, so doctors acted immediately. Due to all of the surgeries, Jordan was first in a brace, but then went into a full body cast from when he was 4 years old until he turned 7. His family, of course, was devastated. But Jordan'€™s warmth and perpetual happiness put the family of a cancer patient in an unlikely predicament. "Jordan was always so happy, so you couldn'€™t cry," Ken said. "How could you cry when he wasn'€™t crying? "It wasn'€™t a curse. Jordan'€™s been able to help in so many ways. Maybe some people will dig a little deeper and donate money to help find a cure so someone else doesn'€™t have to suffer. And he'€™s always done it with a smile. Even in excruciating pain, he reminded us he was OK. He reminded us he would be fine." The Leandre family, like so many others, is forever thankful to the Jimmy Fund and the Red Sox. The two-day Jimmy Fund event serves as a reminder that, while Sox fans have been known to second-guess their manager or jeer an underperforming superstar, the people of Boston love their team and truly appreciate all that it does for the community. "We'€™ve got a lot of kids watching us," said David Ortiz. "That'€™s why we do what we do." With the help of his family, the Jimmy Fund, Dana-Farber and the Red Sox, Jordan has done more than just survive. He'€™s thrived. At the age of 4, Leandre first sang the national anthem at Fenway in 2004. The Red Sox called and asked if Jordan was interested in singing the anthem. He had previously dazzled crowds at Children'€™s Hospital, so he then fearlessly sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" at Fenway. Jordan sang at another two Sox games that season, including during the playoffs against the Yankees. But one of his biggest highlights came two years later. "David Ortiz pushed my wheelchair out onto the field when I sang on Opening Day in 2006," Jordan recalled. "That was incredible. I remember he called my dad once when I was in the hospital to check up on me. We even spoke a couple of times on the phone." "My boy Jordan," Ortiz said. "He'€™s great, man. Just a little kid that wanted to have a regular life. I'€™m real proud and happy that he'€™s getting that."

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THE LEANDRE FAMILY was dealt a cruel hand, forced to see someone whom they loved so dearly suffer through a real-life nightmare. "And you can'€™t do anything to help," Ken said. "So you have to trust the doctors and nurses that they are right. Cancer isn'€™t something you can see, like a wound, so you'€™re kind of blind to it. When you see something'€™s broken, you want to fix it. When you can'€™t, it'€™s tough. It'€™s a sense of helplessness. You can'€™t do anything to help. There'€™s nothing like it." Ken was always amazed by his son'€™s perspective during such bleak, desolate moments. "Jordan never complained during chemo," Ken said. "He'€™s just a different child. The way he approaches life, the way he talks, the way he acts, the way he writes. Everything he does, he'€™s just so different from so many kids." Jordan has had to find ways to overcome all sorts of obstacles foreign to most children. After one of his first surgeries, he was in that cast surrounding his chest, waist and one leg. Doctors thought it would take him a few weeks to walk, but just four days later he found a way. "After the fourth or fifth surgery trying to save his leg, his doctors put a wooden brace to separate his legs so he couldn'€™t walk," Ken said. "He was just days out of surgery and he was sitting on a beanbag chair in the living room. I went to the bathroom, and when I came back, he was standing in the living room and yelled to me, 'Look, Dad '€“ I can stand!' I couldn'€™t believe it. I yelled back, 'You'€™re not supposed to be standing!,' but whenever you tell a child they can'€™t do something, they find ways to overcome. Jordan'€™s been doing that his whole life." When Jon Lester was diagnosed with cancer and was faced chemotherapy, Leandre sent him a hand-written card. "I did it," he wrote. "You can, too." "I'€™ve talked to him," Lester said. "It'€™s always good to hear the success stories and have him come out and be a part of all this. Anything we could do at the time to help him, both mentally and physically get through a tough spot in his life, was great. It'€™s very rewarding when a kid like him looks up to you." Jordan, who threw out the ceremonial first pitch before Tuesday'€™s game, has set his sights on a new goal. He wants to be the youngest cancer survivor to ever make the majors. "I want to pitch for the Red Sox," said Jordan, who, unlike Lester, is a righty. Ken is quick to share his son'€™s success on the baseball diamond. Jordan pitched a no-hitter this past year for his AAU team at a tournament in New Jersey. He also played in a game at Cooperstown at the Baseball Hall of Fame and hit a home run that traveled so far, his dad estimates, he'€™s still not entirely sure if the ball has landed. Ken talked like any other father bragging about his boy, but there is that one small caveat: His son stared death in the face and struck out cancer. "To see where Jordan was in 2007, in a wheelchair, when he couldn'€™t even walk, and to see how far he'€™s come since this, it'€™s unbelievable." Jimmy Fund Feature - Jordan Leandre from Michael Downing on Vimeo.
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