LIMA — There’s a house in Shawnee Township that would appear vacant to the naked eye. There is no furniture, the carpet has been ripped out, and the walls are bare.
If you pass that same residence after 6 p.m. most nights, you’ll see a small but capable team of people working to restore the home of a family whose lives have been devastated by a rare form of cancer.
Ten-year-old Brandon Schindler was an active, healthy boy one day, then given a life-changing diagnosis the next. In March 2014, he was diagnosed with Myelodysplastic syndromes, or MDS. MDS is a form of cancer in which immature blood cells in the bone marrow do not mature or become healthy blood cells.
MDS is so rare that only 14,788 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with the disease each year, according to statistics from the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. And it’s even more uncommon in children. According to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, MDS affects just four out of every 1 million children.
“One of the hardest things as a parent is watching our son go through all this pain and misery, and there’s nothing we can do about it,” said Brian Schindler, Brandon’s father. “If I could trade my life to save his, I would not have to think twice about it.
“No kid should have to go through this.”
For the last nine months, Brandon has called Cincinnati Children’s Hospital his “home.” He is currently hooked up to a breathing apparatus and spent the last two months in the hospital’s intensive care unit. He is scheduled to have a tracheotomy this week, which doctors hope will make it easier for him to breathe.
Though doctors were able to successfully perform a bone marrow transplant, Brandon’s body essentially rejected the new cells. Brian explained that the new cells attacked his eyes, stomach, skin and now his lungs. In addition, the treatments to stop the rejection and spread of infection are almost as bad as the cancer itself. Brandon can no longer bathe, change his clothes, talk or walk.
Through it all, Brian’s spirits remain high.
“I’ve got all my faith in him that he’s gonna beat this,” he said. “My boy is strong, very strong.”
Brandon’s mother, Andrea Schindler, was able to take medical leave from work and has been by her son’s side his entire hospital stay. Meanwhile, Brian is working 10-hour days, five days a week to ensure the family has enough money to pay for its mounting medical bills.
Though he visits his family on weekends, Brian wishes to someday reunite his family in the place where they built their lives together.
“I just want to bring my family home,” he said.
REBUILDING A HOME
While the Schindlers don’t expect a Christmas miracle, they do hope to bring Brandon home by summer. In order to do so, they need a germ-free house.
Thanks to the kindness of strangers, the Schindler’s dream may become a reality.
Josh Unverferth is a Lowe’s employee who happened to be working when Brian came in to discuss a remodeling project. When Unverferth heard his story, he decided he would do everything in his power to help the Schindlers.
“As a father, it just kind of hit me,” Unverferth said. “I just wanted to help. I had to help.”
Ryan Pohlman, a gym teacher at Elmwood Primary School, heard about Brandon’s situation through coworkers. Brandon had attended the school in years past, and although Pohlman never had Brandon in class, he remembered him fondly.
When Pohlman discovered the Schindlers needed a germ-free house, he knew this was his chance to help.
“I’ve done construction since I was 12, so it was one of those things where I knew it was something I could do to try to get this family back home,” Pohlman said.
In late September, Unverferth, Pohlman and several contractors began gutting the house. Two months later, the walls and ceilings have been prepped for paint. Floors are ready to be laid. Cabinets are waiting to be hung. Doors, trim, bathroom fixtures and lighting are just some of the tasks that need to be completed. The problem is there’s not enough manpower to make it happen.
To help, Apollo Career Center’s Adult Carpentry class stepped forward to assist, along with volunteers from the Husky Refinery Action Club. With a job of this magnitude, however, more people are still needed.
The team is looking for people with HVAC, plumbing, electrical and carpentry experience. Though certain skill sets are preferred, any person willing to donate their time and effort can help the cause. Monetary donations are also needed, as the laminate flooring alone will cost more than $2,000.
The job is far from over, but Brian is thankful for everything this team of Good Samaritans has done thus far.
“To me, they’re family,” he said. “Everybody coming forward like this and volunteering their time is just overwhelming. I don’t know how to express my thanks to them.
“It really restores your faith in humanity.”
Reach John Bush at 567-242-0456 or on Twitter @bush_lima