CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- A Chesterfield kindergartener will get a shot at a normal, long-lasting life thanks to his two-year-old brother.
“He’s the cutest brother in the whole world and the best brother,” William Shepperson said of his brother, Moses.
Five-year-old William was born with sickle cell anemia, a disease in which misshaped red blood cells aren’t able to carry enough oxygen to his organs.
“If a cell is not shaped properly, it can’t do what it’s supposed to do,” Williams’ mother, Whitney Shepperson, said. “For a person with sickle cell, there can be a lot of painful episodes because, if you think of things not in the right shape getting stuck together, they’re supposed to flow neatly, but they don’t because they aren’t the right size.”
Whitney said the disease is starting to take its toll on her young son.
“We’re starting to see signs that things are going to get worse," Whitney said. "There’s a valve in his heart that is weakening, and they’re saying it’s directly because of the sickle cell.”
At the age of three, William contracted bacterial Meningitis due to his compromised immune system.
“We knew that the only way to provide a cure for sickle cell is to find someone who is a 10-out-of-10 blood protein match who can be a bone marrow transplant donor for William,” Whitney explained.
The Sheppersons found that rare, perfect match two years ago with the birth of their son Moses. The father and mother vividly remember the email they received when Moses was two months old.
“The line that I will never forget that she said is, 'Miss Shepperson, your prayers worked.' She said Moses is a match and in parenthesis said 10 out of 10 best match,” explained William’s mother.
Twenty-four months later, mom and dad are asking for the community's prayers as their sons start the bone marrow transplant process at The Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU on Nov. 12 .
“We’re going to start with breaking down the immune system he currently has, getting rid of all the bone marrow he has introducing his brother’s bone marrow and hopefully growing a very strong immune system ” Whitney said.
Whitney said said the transplant will basically reset her son's immune system to the equivalent of a newborn.
“We looking for a healing, there’s going to be a healing we already blessed,” Ryan Shepperson, William’s father, said. “God has shown us the way so far, so we are faith -- like her shirt says, faith strong.”
The family wore matching shirts with one of their favorite Bible verses along with an image dear to their hearts on the back on Saturday.
“On the back of Ryan’s shirt is a tree and there’s footprints going down to Moses and there’s someone planting seeds,” Whitney said. “I’ve always called my sons my feet, which is a reference to faith because there have been so many things that happened, and I didn’t know what I was going to do so they have grown my faith... I just look at my growth over the time that I’ve had them, so we are faith growers.”
The family hosted a big party and fundraiser at their Chesterfield home celebrating William’s upcoming Jan. 4 birthday -- and all of the holidays the five-year-old will miss while in isolation.
“They celebrated me because I was having a party because they were pretending I was 6, but I’m 5,” William explained.
While the Sheppersons' wish for a cure for their almost six-year-old, they pray he understands the sacrifices he’s about to make are to ensure many more birthdays in the years to come.
“William said, 'On my birthday, I’m going to get a book at school' and 'I hope it’s one that I like.' And I just started crying because I was like, 'You’re not going to get it,'” Whitney said through tears. “I just really really hope when you [William] look back on this you realize that we thought about everything and decided this was the best thing to make sure your life was long and full I hope that he remembers that.”
William’s last day of school at Crenshaw Elementary is Nov. 10. His classmates have created a countdown to his chance at a cure.
William is expected to be out school the remainder of the year since he will be hospitalized for six weeks. He will then have an isolated recovery period at home because his immune system will be compromised.
“William will be in isolation, can’t go to school, can’t go to church can’t be around a lot of people for a good amount of time and in that time we hope that everything will go well,” said Whitney.
A benefit concert will be held for the family on Nov. 4 from 5 to 9 p.m. at Spring Creek Baptist Church at 5130 Woolridge Road in Moseley.
Additionally, a GoFundMe account has been established to help the family.
“We don’t take it lightly that our family, our church family, our friends, the people who don’t even know us are praying for us and keeping us in their thoughts and wishing well for two little boys they don’t even know,” Whitney said. “Just continue to pray, you don’t have to give money, that’s not our number one thing... we are soliciting prayer and good stuff -- send that our way.”