NEW PALESTINE — His favorite color was orange, and he lived for a good game of hoops. But that’s not all people will remember about Brody Stephens.
The Sugar Creek Elementary second-grader’s legacy was born out of the toughness he displayed in a courageous nearly year-and-a-half battle against leukemia.
Brody, 8, while quiet, had a welcoming, contagious smile — one chemotherapy, the loss of his hair and days of medical treatments couldn’t take away.
The New Palestine boy, who had been battling the disease for the second time, died Saturday of a viral complication.
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He leaves behind his parents, Celia and Jason Stephens, and three brothers.
His fighting spirit and the “Brody Strong” mantra helped the youngster gain national attention.
An avid basketball fan, Brody had the support of some of the country’s biggest professional athletes, including NBA stars Steph Curry and Glenn Robinson III, who visited him. Brody attended many NBA games and traveled to the West Coast in early April to serve as a ball boy for his beloved Golden State Warriors.
Brody was first diagnosed and beat acute myeloid leukemia when he was 18 months old. AML is primarily a cancer of the bone marrow and lymph nodes.
He was diagnosed for the second time in December 2015, one month prior to his five-year remission anniversary. The family learned he had B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common form of leukemia in children, characterized by the presence of too many immature white blood cells in the patient’s blood and bone marrow.
Since August, when he went back into Riley Hospital for Children, friends and family have posted pictures and videos of Brody — a huge sports fan — meeting his favorite professional athletes, including Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck. They all stopped by to encourage him.
One video showed Brody, hooked up to medical tubes and protective medical clothing, dribbling a basketball through the hospital halls.
Community members who rallied behind the Stephens family woke Sunday morning to learn Brody’s long battle was over.
Over the weekend, friends flooded social media with condolences and prayers for the family.
Brody’s principal, Kari Shelton, was devastated upon hearing Brody had passed.
Her school was a sea of orange Monday as students and staff paid their respects to Brody by wearing his favorite color.
“Brody was such a laid back, calm kid who had such a relaxing demeanor about him, and that is what our day has been like,” Shelton said. “We feel like his presence is here.”
Counselors, some from the Mt. Vernon and Eastern Hancock school districts, were made available during school hours to support all district students and staff. District officials brought in dogs from local nonprofit Bentley’s Buddies and Friends to visit the second-grade rooms where Brody once learned.
Dressed in an long sleeved orange shirt with a bright orange ribbon pinned to her chest, JoAnn Shell of New Palestine was among those community supporters grieving Monday.
“So many community members have pitched in,” said Shell, who grandchildren attended school with Brody. “We’re all so heartbroken.”
Brody captured the hearts of his classmates and the entire community in his valiant fight, district officials wrote in a statement.
“Brody taught us all about perseverance,” the statement said. “Our students learned how to support and love a classmate through the most difficult of times.”
Riley Hospital for Children is preparing to designate one its signature Riley wagons with a customized license plate in Brody’s memory. The “Brody’s Red Wagon” GoFundMe page seeks donations for the effort.
The family is planning a celebration of life to take place at New Palestine High School in the coming days.