February 28th, 2016 started out like any other day for Chris and Kiona Black and their three sons.
However, that day, their lives changed.
Their eldest son, Wyatt, 15, was flown by medical helicopter to Hershey Hospital, and diagnosed with bacterial meningitis, which is a life-threatening inflammation of the membranes protecting the brain.
“I work for the fire department and all three of my boys have been raised around it,” Kiona Black said. “(Wyatt) always loved the stories of me getting to fly with patients on the medevac and swore he was going to do it one day, too. Unfortunately, he doesn’t remember what turned out to be his first time.”
In the Intensive Care Unit, Wyatt began antibiotic treatments.
After two weeks, he was transferred to Hershey’s step-down unit, and a week later, he was moved to Hershey Children’s Hospital’s rehab center.
On Saturday April 9th, after a seven-week battle, Wyatt finally came off of antibiotics.
“I’d say the past two weeks have been the best and worst,” Kiona said. “This last week, everything body-wise is waking up. He’s mentally aware of everything, but his body doesn’t cooperate.”
“This is a boy who works hard at everything, and always makes the right choices,” she continued. “He was getting up at 5 AM to go to baseball practices in the morning, then attending advanced classes during school, only to stay late to prepare for an FFA competition. All of this while feeling guilty that baseball and his desire to work at the family farm cut into lifting times for football in the off-season.”
Kiona Black has been friends with Amy Bunty since they were 10 years old, and the Blacks have become close friends with her over 30 years of involvement with the FFA and the fire department.
When Amy sent Kiona a text about visiting Wyatt a few weeks ago, the conversation led to a surprise.
Amy’s husband, Chris Bunty, who is co-owner and president of the semi-pro football team, the Hanover Rhinos, wanted to bring along several key members of the team to make a special presentation to Wyatt.
“I didn’t know anything about the Rhinos following Wyatt until (Amy) hit me up last week, asking about visiting,” Kiona said.
On Sunday April 10th, the day after a tough loss at Carroll County, Chris and Amy Bunty, their son Jacob, Rhinos’ co-owner Adam Bostian, team captain Jeremy Renoll, head coach Ben Davis and his daughter, and statistician George Marinos traveled up PA-94 to Hershey Children’s Hospital for a special visit.
Renoll (South Western ’06) has known the Black family since 2007.
“His mom taught my EMT class when I got hired in Frederick County, and the boys would come in and be PTs for us,” Renoll said.
When the group entered Wyatt’s room, Renoll presented his buddy with his very own jersey- number 79, with W Black on the nameplate. Kiona told Wyatt that ‘Hercules’ had something for him, as Renoll laid the jersey down for Wyatt to see.
“That name is something his mom gave me,” Renoll said. “She called me that because I was always rough and breaking stuff when I went on a call, so it just stuck and to her boys helping out in her EMT classes, that’s what they came to know me by.”
“He breaks everything without trying,” Kiona said. “It started when he was in recruit school, and my boys have always called him that ever since. The first thing all three of my boys ask if we are stopping at the fire house, everytime, is, if Hercules is working.”
In addition to receiving a game-used football personally signed by every member of the 2016 Hanover Rhinos, Wyatt also received Hanover Rhinos t-shirts for his family, and Rhinos’ bumper stickers.
But, the best gifts of all were yet to come.
Renoll pulled out an officially-designed letterhead. He began to read it, but was overcome with emotion, and passed it to Chris Bunty, who also was overcome with emotion somewhere during the first sentence.
Finally, the letter, addressed to the Black family, was passed to Ben Davis, and what he read was very emotional for Kiona.
Wyatt has been appointed an honorary team captain for the rest of the Hanover Rhinos’ 2016 season. He and his family are welcome to attend all the Rhinos’ home games for life. In addition, the Rhinos are starting a new tradition called “Wyatt’s Warriors”, in which, the Rhinos and the Black family will choose a deserving child in the local area to be named Honorary Captain each season.
“I thought (the visit) was just about the jersey and game ball,” Kiona said. “I had no idea about the plan to start a cause, inspired by Wyatt’s fight, for years to come, for other kids. That’s why I got so emotional.”
The greatest gift in Wyatt’s eyes was not something that could be seen on paper.
“What meant the most is how you all interacted with Wyatt like he was a normal 15-year old boy,” Kiona said. “Everyone spoke to him like he wasn’t sick, and that makes a huge difference, for him to be treated like a guy instead of a patient for a little bit.”
You can read more about Wyatt’s cause, as well as get updates from Kiona, and lend support with donations and kind words at https://www.gofundme.com/startawiot.