Carnival for cause: Community comes together for resident diagnosed with leukemia

Ellie (left) and Annie Levine  (right) stand together holding hands smiling for a photo. When Ellie was diagnosed with leukemia in March, her family's life was changed forever.

Credit: Courtesy of Doug Levine

Ellie (left) and Annie Levine (right) stand together holding hands smiling for a photo. When Ellie was diagnosed with leukemia in March, her family's life was changed forever. "[The Wayland carnival is] like the greatest birthday party ever for them," father Doug Levine said. "A carnival in their names is going to be incredible."

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Wayland resident Ellie Levine has endured more in her five and a half years of life than most adults have in their entire lives. Just before her fifth birthday party was scheduled, Ellie and her family were sent immediately to Children’s Hospital in Boston after something came up in her five-year blood checkup test.

“[Ellie] had some symptoms that we didn’t really know what to make of them,” Doug Levine, Ellie’s father, said. “She had bruising on her legs, and she had some intermittent pain in her joints and her back. She threw up a couple of times, but nothing major.”

After about five hours waiting at the hospital, the Levine family received the diagnosis that Ellie had acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

“We were lucky to have her five-year check up when her pediatrician did a blood test,” Levine said. “We ended up getting sent to Newton Wellesley hospital to confirm those tests and then immediately to Children’s [Hospital] in Boston to the E.R., and Ellie received her diagnosis, and it’s changed our lives ever since.”

Almost six months since her diagnosis, Ellie and her little sister, Annie, are preparing for their joint fifth and third carnival birthday party, organized by Wayland resident Doug Alongi.

“I met with [Levine] one night, had a conversation with him and learned about his situation a little bit more,” Alongi said. “I reached back out a couple days later and asked if he was open to us doing something for his children, and he said, ‘Sure, what do you have in mind?’ So I said, ‘I don’t know, give me a couple of days to think about it.’ So that’s how the carnival came about.”

Ellie’s parents are beyond amazed at what the event has turned out to be, and how much support they’ve received from so many people.

“I thought [Alongi wanted] to take my daughters out for ice cream or maybe a movie,” Levine said. “The next thing I know, I get sent a flyer for Wayland Carnival Day. My wife Leah and I were blown away because it’s such an incredible outpouring of support by some people we’ve met, and some people we’ve never met before are coming to organize this amazing event. [It’s] a cool community that we live in.”

Alongi first started funding through social media, but he eventually starting reaching out to local businesses. The amount of financial support he received was more than he ever thought possible.

“Via Facebook, I put a note out to folks, and said, ‘Hey, I’m thinking about doing something for [the Levine family],'” Alongi said. “’They both had their birthday parties canceled because they had a joint birthday party scheduled that was actually on the first day of Ellie’s chemotherapy treatment.”

Alongi still wasn’t sure what he wanted to do, but he knew that he needed donors in order to make the event happen.

“Individuals around town started to donate, and then we expanded it a bit to local businesses, [asking] if they wanted to be corporate sponsors,” Alongi said.

The carnival has a wide variety of activities for all kids to enjoy, and it has free admission for everyone.

“There’s going to be a bunch of activities for the kids ranging from bouncy houses, dunk tanks, face paint, henna stations, t-ball tosses and therapy ponies,” Alongi said.

As for Ellie, her chemotherapy treatment has been coming along well, and she’s back to being the energetic, happy kid she has always been.

“The first few weeks [of chemotherapy] were particularly tough because it’s all in-patient at the hospital,” Levine said. “[Ellie] got out [of the hospital], and then unfortunately one of the chemo drugs gave her pancreatitis, so we were back in the hospital for a couple weeks, which was awful. But since that time, knock on wood, she’s been responding really well to the chemo treatment, [and she] just started kindergarten at Loker.”

Ellie’s current phase of chemo treatments has her going to the Jimmy Fund Clinic every three weeks, and the weeks where she is not there, a nurse blood tests Ellie to ensure she is doing okay.

“We’ve had a number of folks in terms of making financial donations asking to help, and from a volunteer capacity as well,” Alongi said.

People and businesses in and outside of Wayland have contributed much more than just financial support to the carnival. In addition to donating money, many people have offered to volunteer to work at the carnival, including many members of the WHS community.

“A lot of [WHS students] are getting involved [through volunteering],” Alongi said. “They’ve been very generous in terms of coming out, [and] we have a large participation from many of the teams: the boys soccer program, the basketball program and other students as well.”

Because there is a lot of ground to cover on the day of the event, the high school students who have volunteered their time to help out mean a lot to the event.

“The high school has been great in terms of stepping up with volunteers,” Alongi said. “Because at the end of the day, we’re expecting a lot of people, and there’s a lot of activities, so there’s a lot of volunteer work that needs to be done on the actual day.”

Junior Abby Gavron, who is a member of the girls basketball program, sees a lot of importance in volunteering.

“I feel like it’s very important that we get involved with the community because the community does so much for us,” Gavron said. “[I think] for high school sports programs, it’s important to give back because a lot of young kids look up to us.”

For Ellie and Annie’s parents, Doug and Leah Levine, the carnival is going to be an amazing opportunity for Ellie and Annie to get their long awaited birthday party and for Ellie to finally get to be herself in a loving environment.

“It’s like the greatest birthday party ever for them,” Levine said. “A carnival [for them] is going to be incredible. I grew up in Weston, my wife grew up in Newton, and we were both looking for similar communities to settle down into, and we’re so glad that we chose Wayland, but this just takes it to a whole other level about how glad we were that we made that choice to live here.”

Aside from the carnival, the Levines have received significant support from people around town since Ellie was diagnosed.

“It’s not just the carnival, we’ve been helped in so many ways,” Levine said. “People made dinners for us while we were in the hospital for weeks, [and] people have taken care of our other daughter, Annie, when we’re at the hospital, and it was all organized by friends and mostly folks in town. We’re just so lucky.”

The Levines are especially surprised by the amount of people they had never even heard of who were willing to help.

“It blows us away that there are so many people who just want to help, [many of] who[m] we’ve never even met before, as well as the people who we’re close to and other parents in town and friends all coming together [to support our family],” Levine said.

The Wayland Carnival will take place at Wayland Middle School on Sunday, Sept. 15, from 12 to 4 p.m.

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