The eighth-grade class at Oldham-Ramona School has a mission. They are raising money to help a classmate who has not been able to join them this year -- Clay Misar, who was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia in late May and was hospitalized until early October.
"Clay is really smart, athletic and likes to help out people," said classmate Brayden Hanson. "I miss him in class and sports because he's really funny and I miss talking to him."
That is a sentiment shared by other classmates as well.
"What I miss most about Clay not being in school is that he could always make someone smile, even if they were having a bad day," Camlin Schneider said.
Of course, his sense of humor did lead to mischief at times.
"He's one of my best friends, and since he hasn't been able to be in class with us, it's very quiet and boring," Jace Schiernbeck indicated. "He is one of the two I can usually get into trouble with."
But his generous nature also contributes to the strong ties Misar has with his classmates.
"He always treated me like his best friend. Even if we got in a fight, he was just `forget about it and move on'," Eva Sheeks said.
Since his diagnosis, Misar has had a rough journey. At present, the news in his Caring Bridge journal is mixed. On one hand, he is home -- great cause for celebration. On the other hand, his kidneys aren't functioning well enough for him to have a bone marrow transplant...yet.
Classmates keep in touch
Since May, he has gone through hell -- because mincing words wouldn't communicate the challenges he has faced. Acute myelocytic leukemia (ALM) affects about 500 children annually in the United States.
To make matters worse, Misar has the FLT-3 mutation which makes it more aggressive. In July, when he was interviewed after receiving chemotherapy, he was optimistic despite the additional challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, which prevented him from seeing much of his siblings and friends.
They did, however, keep in touch, sending cards and letters and also through Snapchat. This was as important to his classmates as it was to him.
"Our class all grew up together in the small town we live in," Emily Matson explained. "He always made our class laugh. I miss his great spirit being in our class like we were used to. Our class writes him every week and I Snapchat him. It's good to write to him because it lets him know we are always thinking of him."
Bree Wettlaufer also addressed the importance to keeping in touch.
"I think it is important to do this because it is a hard time for everyone, especially Clay, so I think communication and good spirits is very important," she indicated.
Misar struggles through summer
By the end of July, things took a turn for the worse for Misar when he began to run a fever and blood cultures indicated he might have an infection. It turned out to be clostridium difficile, a dangerous type of bacteria which can lead to serious complications.
When his fever dropped, he was able to make some outings, but his energy level remained low and he didn't have much of an appetite. In mid-August, the fever returned and a CT scan showed an infection in his lungs. Within days, he was taken to intensive care.
His lungs continued to worsen and he was intubated. At the same time, due to kidney issues, a dialysis port was put in and he was put on dialysis. As bleak as that sounds, his mother Annitta Misar was able to find a silver lining.
"He is comfortable and not in pain right now as these machines give his body a much-needed break," she wrote in his journal.
Six days later, she wrote two lines that reflected how serious his condition had become: "We have decided to put Clay in deep sedation so that he is completely asleep. He started to cough more which is hard on his lungs."
More than two weeks later, on Sept. 10, the breathing tube was finally removed. Slowly, while he was sedated, his body had begun to fight the fungal infection in his lungs. He remained on dialysis, but a couple days later he was awake for periods of time, asking for things like ice chips.
"He continues to make improvements every day," Annitta wrote. "I know that prayers are being answered every day."
Within days his sense of humor was returning, too, even though the withdrawal from sedation and his increasing white count made him sick. He faked leg tremors and then grinned at his mother when she went to assist him.
"What a kid!" she wrote.
Light shines at end of tunnel
A month after being transferred to intensive care, he stood for the first time, with assistance, and was able to dress in his own clothes. Bit by bit, the recovery continued. He was taken off dialysis for portions of several successive days and then taken off altogether.
Before long, he began to walk again and was weaned off drip medications. Finally, at the end of September, he had a bone marrow test shortly before leaving intensive care.
On Oct. 3 he went home for a visit and on Oct. 8 he was discharged. He is in remission but, due to the FLT-3 mutation, will need a bone marrow transplant. However, he needs to be stronger before that procedure.
In the weeks since then, he's been treated on an outpatient basis and has been able to spend time at home. Tests show that his kidneys are healing and, hopefully, will soon be healthy enough to go to the University of Minnesota for the transplant.
While his family did not wish to speak about his journey at this point, they were more than willing to have their journey, as documented on Caring Bridge, shared.
Classmates organize fund-raiser
Misar's classmates, knowing how difficult his journey has been and knowing it continues, wanted to do something to help him, so they organized a fund-raiser. Parents Rebecca Hanson and Carrie Schiernbeck, who are assisting the young people, emphasize that Misar's classmates are doing this for him.
"These kids have really driven this project," they indicated. "They came up with the idea and asked the adults for help with the logistics to get it started."
They have been engaged in supporting Misar all year, Hanson and Schiernbeck noted. In addition to keeping in touch and sending small gifts, the junior high football team had helmet decals this year, the class has worn Pray for Clay shirts to school, and they have prayed for him.
"Putting together this fund-raiser for Clay is also helpful for the kids as they are dealing with their difficult emotions," the parents said.
The Clay's Crew Christmas Raffle offers nine chances to win. Prizes include a 32-inch Samsung 1080pm Smart LED TV, a family photo session by Rachel Clelland Photography, a $250 beef bundle, $100 cash, an 18-inch OG doll with a handmade 10-piece wardrobe, four gray-level Stampede tickets, four Canaries tickets for 2021 and two sets of four USD basketball tickets.
Raffle tickets are available from Misar's classmates for $5 each or six for $25. Those who don't know any of his classmates can purchase tickets from Schiernbeck by calling 270-1756 or from Hanson by calling 270-3870.
Jace Schiernbeck explained why he wanted to be part of this fund-raising effort.
"I wanted to do something for Clay because he would do this for me," he said. "It's what friends and classmates do."
Brayden Hanson's feelings are much the same.
"It's important to have this raffle for Clay because it helps him and his family out," he said. "It's fun to work on a project to help a friend."