CHICAGO (CBS)–Instead of returning to class at Walnut Elementary School in southwest suburban Shorewood with her third grade classmates this week, 8-year-old Avery Gladkowski was preparing for her third round of chemotherapy.
After arriving at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital Thursday morning with her mom Stacy for her chemo treatment, doctors delivered news of a setback– she’d have to wait another week for her next round of chemo so she could gain more strength.
Between frequent hospital visits and spending time with a tutor who catches her up on her school’s curriculum, Avery has found herself with lots of downtime since she was diagnosed with leukemia last summer.
The Shorewood Police Department heard about her diagnosis and took it upon themselves to help fill all that quiet time Avery spends alone at home.
The police department raised more than $700 during “No-Shave November,” and gave it all to the little girl.
Wearing just her favorite fuzzy bathrobe, Avery was sitting in her bedroom one day last month when she looked out the window and saw a line of police cruisers driving up her street.
“When she first saw all the police, she thought she was in trouble,” Stacy said.
She ran downstairs and opened the front door to find about a dozen police officers, with the Shorewood Police K9 Unit in tow, standing on her doorstep.
The smiling officers presented her with a check for $720, and told her she could spend it on whatever she wanted.
“Avery had no idea we were planning to show up at her house with a special surprise,” said Deputy Chief Jason Barten. “Many of us have kids of our own, so there were a lot of grown men holding back tears when we met Avery. She’s a motivator for us and keeps our spirits going. It was a really cool day.”
Avery’s cancer diagnosis in August 2018 changed everything for the family of four.
Stacy and her husband were preparing to leave for their annual vacation to a Michigan beach house in July when Avery suddenly came down with a fever.
Her parents brought Avery to an urgent care clinic, where she was weighed. The first sign something could be wrong was her weight–she had lost five pounds.
“She’s already a tall, thin kid so i thought it was strange,” Stacy said. “She had also been more tired lately, but I thought it was because it was summertime and she was just tired from all the activities.”
Doctors chalked off the fatigue and fever as a virus, and she was sent home.
But Stacy’s intuition told her Avery’s condition was more than a common sickness,
Blood tests later revealed her white blood cell count was concerningly low, and doctors diagnosed her with leukemia a few days later.
“She’s been a trooper,” Stacy said. “We’ve had our days when not she’s not feeling well and she asks why this is happening to her, but most of the time she’s upbeat and positive.”
Avery took it upon herself to brighten the holidays for other kids by helping to organize a toy drive at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital, Stacy said.
As for the money from the police, Avery spent part of it on an Xbox. She put the rest in savings.
“When her energy is up, she can start having friends over again,” Stacy said, “but right now she really misses the interactions with her buddies.”
Barten said it was a “no-brainer” to raise the money for Avery. The family said they now consider the police officers as lifelong friends.