BERWICK, Maine — Last week, 6-year-old Evalise “Evie” McLean had a low-grade fever and an ear infection, but was looking forward to her first cheerleading competition of the year on Sunday.
Last Wednesday morning, she woke up briefly to again tell her parents how excited she was for her competition before falling back to sleep. It was a snow day for many area schools as the previous night’s storm already had dumped several inches of powder and it was still coming down.
Later that morning, Evie’s father, Lenroy McLean, found her unresponsive and having seizures. He immediately called 911.
A medi-flight would have rushed Evie to the Boston Children’s Hospital intensive care unit, but couldn’t fly because of the storm. Instead, a special ambulance with a team of doctors was used to take the first-grader to Boston.
Although Evie had a low-grade fever since Monday, no one could have expected the witty, thoughtful and energetic young girl would never get to put on her puffy snowsuit or her favorite hot-pink cowgirl boots ever again.
Evie remained unresponsive and was left on life support until doctors officially determined she was dead on Sunday. The cause had been the H-flu strand of bacterial meningitis.
“It came on suddenly, it was a matter of hours,” said Evie’s maternal aunt Brooke Chea. “She had shown some signs, but no one really knew what it was and it was especially fast-moving … And she never looked sick while she was in the hospital. She just looked like she was sleeping.”
Chea said Evie had received the vaccination against bacterial meningitis her whole life, but for some reason it just didn’t take.
“She had an ear infection and she just couldn’t fight it off,” Chea said of the bacteria which led to an infection that spread to Evie’s brain. “Her parents feel like they did something wrong, but if she would’ve gone to the doctor she would’ve just been diagnosed with an ear infection and sent home with medication because it’s so rare that doctors aren’t accustomed to it.”
Chea said her sister Patrice McLean wouldn’t leave her daughter’s side while she was in the ICU.
“They’re coping in their own ways,” Chea said of Evie’s parents and 11-year-old brother Tyrone. “It was very hard for them to get home. They’re doing what they have to do to get by.”
To help ease the pain of the drive home without their little girl, a longtime friend of Patrice, Missy Olsen Provost, organized an event page on Facebook called “Balloons for Evie.”
The event was a way to bring the community together to help support the family by lining the road home from the hospital with balloons on Sunday. So many people wanted to get involved that balloons were put up all over the local area and released in states as far as North Carolina.
Provost wrote, “Let’s give Tyrone something wonderful to see out his window and show them how much they are all loved. Maybe Ty will remember these balloons as the bright spot in the day he had to say goodbye to his little sister.”
Before the family left the hospital on Sunday, they were able to give five others five very special gifts.
Although Evie’s life came to an early end, recipients were found for the donation of her lungs, both of her kidneys, her pancreas and her heart.
“Her heart is still beating in someone else,” Chea said, with tears in her eyes.
The family might one day get to meet the recipients of those organs and the New England Organ Bank of Massachusetts has offered to come into school with Tyrone if he ever wants to give a presentation or do a project about the final gift his little sister was able to give.
Chea said donation coordinator Adam Helmes told her how rare it was for a child to be able to donate so many healthy organs. Helmes told her only 20 to 30 children per year in New England are able to donate that many organs.
Evie, a cheerleader with Noble Youth Cheering, may have missed her competition Sunday in Augusta, but her spirit was present at the civic center with performances and ribbons dedicated to her life. Instead of a moment of silence, a moment of cheer was held to celebrate her “spitfire” personality.
The first-grader was known for her “fashiony” style and her love of Hello Kitty and had recently memorized all of the lyrics to the songs in her favorite movie, “Frozen.”
In an effort to ease the financial burden on the family because of medical and burial costs, Fortier set up a GoFundMe page in Evie’s memory. In only three days, the site has raised $31,775 from 563 different people.
“It was a short period of time, but the medical bills mounted very quickly. We were really concerned. Ten or 20 percent of a heck of a lot is still a heck of a lot,” Fortier said of the costs insurance won’t cover.
Fortier said the site began receiving donations immediately after she set it up and “snowballed” from there. She has sent a thank you message to each and every person who has donated and many complete strangers have been inspired to donate as well. One anonymous person donated $1,000 and a few others donated $500 anonymously.
“I’m so proud of the whole community,” she said.
To donate to the family or leave messages of condolence visit www.gofundme.com/6qpxfo. The family asks that other donations be made to the Boston Children’s Hospital ICU.
Evalise’s “celebration of life memorial services” will be held at 4 p.m. Wednesday at The Red Barn at Outlook Farm in South Berwick. Fortier wrote the service is open to anyone wishing to attend and will be appropriate for children.
Chea said the theme is sparkly and pink, just as Evie would have liked it.
Distributed by MCT Information Services