Community rallies support for Penticton teen

Struggling with the debilitating conditions brought on by Lyme disease, John Pierce has his good days and bad days.

John Pierce watches as hundreds of skaters circle the ice surface at the South Okanagan Events Centre Sunday. Organized by the leadership students at Penticton Secondary School

Struggling with the debilitating conditions brought on by Lyme disease, John Pierce has his good days and bad days.

Last Sunday was a very good day.

In fact, so many people crowded the South Okanagan Events Centre ice surface for the fundraiser for the 16-year-old, organizers at one point had to close the gates to skaters.

When the ice crystals finally cleared and donations tallied, the Penticton Secondary School leadership team chalked up a figure of over $3,000.

“This is beyond our wildest expectations,” said an overjoyed Pen High vice-principal Sandra Richardson as she watched a steady stream of people entering the SOEC. “This is an incredible community that cares about its young people. We were hoping a lot of people would show up, but this many … it’s over the top.

“Our intent, more than the money, was to show John that even though he can’t attend school right now we haven’t forgotten about him and that we support and care about him — that he is a Laker.”

The disease, which brings with it loss of balance, central and peripheral nervous system disorders as well as extreme fatigue, has made it difficult for him to attend school, which he has been unable to do since September.

His symptoms began in 2008 when he was bitten by a tick. After a brief “protocol” treatment in B.C. which had no impact, he was referred to a doctor in Washington state where he now travels on a regular basis.

Despite the fact John is showing promising results, provincial medical does not cover the costs and the family must fund treatment on their own.

Sunday’s event — a surprise for John — was just one of a series of ongoing fundraisers that has included donations from Cops for Kids, his former elementary school École Entre Lacs and others.

“It’s just an unbelievable feeling that so many people care,” said John, who was standing just off ice. “To see so many lifelong friends coming together to help, and even more incredible the number of people I don’t even know who have come out to support me.”

His mother Cathy who was standing nearby was also still struggling to contain her emotions about the efforts of so many concerned area residents.

“Knowing that we have all this support makes it so much less scary,” she said. “To see this puts me in tears. We can do this, we can do this.

“It helps John on many levels. It helps pay for his treatment, it picks up his spirits knowing that people care. I’ve definitely seen a difference in him just today — he’s smiling.”

Erica McDowell, her two children and their friend were among the hundreds who showed up at the SOEC for the very worthy cause.

“It’s scary because you realize it could happen to any one of our children,” she said. “We want to help them (Pierce family) out because they’ve been through a lot over the last several years and I want my kids to know that any little bit we can do is important.”

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