On a recent morning when temperatures were in the single digits in Quincy, a group of elementary school students stood outside on the sidewalk clutching signs, in anticipation of a very special friend.
Bridget Kelley, 8, returned to Merrymount Elementary School after 15 months away for lifesaving medical treatment. The youngster was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in September 2016 and had a stem cell transplant, from her younger sister, the following March.
“It’s not a regular old day,” said Kristin Healy, a mother of three who knows the Kelleys and helped organize the welcome back celebration. “There’s a chance Bridget could have lost her battle, and she didn’t.”
Healy handed out 200 signs and 150 pairs of hand-warmers that chilly morning. Bridget’s friends and their parents lined the streets leading to Merrymount School, and the Quincy Police Department provided an escort.
Children held signs that said “Bridget the Brave,” “Welcome Back Bridget,” and “We Missed You.”
“We know she had cancer, leukemia,” said Matthew Curtin, who was in Bridget’s class, as he held a welcome back sign with his older brother, Will. “Everyone’s supporting Bridget.”
Megan Kelley said her daughter likes school and was thrilled to be there after so many months away. She was afraid Bridget might be embarrassed by all the attention, but that wasn’t the case at all.
“She was elated,” the mother said.
The Merrymount community banded together to help the Kelleys during Bridget’s illness and treatment. Neighbors helped out with meals, visited Bridget, and made donations to cancer charities.
“The welcome back was reflective of how they’ve been. It’s been really nice and really helpful,” Kelley said.
Eunice Rush was there with her children to support Bridget. “This is a big day,” Rush said. “First day back -- it’s huge.”
Bridget’s leukemia was discovered after she went for an MRI in September 2016 in Boston Children’s Hospital for doctors to get a better look at an enlarged tonsil. She was admitted to the hospital right away.
Since her diagnosis, she has endured chemotherapy, surgeries, and infections, but after two lengthy stays in the hospital for treatment and the transplant, her prognosis is good, her mother said. She still has physical therapy and follow-up appointments, but she is cancer-free.
The Kelleys have been the beneficiaries of charitable efforts, and now the family is hoping to establish a foundation of their own, to help families in similar situations.
“Getting that diagnosis … it’s every parent’s worst nightmare,” Kelley said. ”Hopefully, that’s all behind us.”