Cartoogechaye Elementary and West Macon Fire Department give cancer survivor a memory
Students at Cartoogechaye Elementary School were given the opportunity to enjoy a beautiful day hiking up to Siler Bald on Wednesday, but this trip was no ordinary outdoor excursion. One particular fourth grader was venturing out into the wilderness for the first time in his young life.
In 2007, Daniel Tomberlin was diagnosed with stage 4 Neuroblastoma at the tender age of four, a rare type of cancer that attacks the body’s nerve tissue. Although Tomberlin fought successfully for his life, the tumor significantly damaged his spine, paralyzing Daniel from the waist down.
As this year’s annual hiking trip drew closer, school officials began discussing how they could include Daniel in the trip. Sarah Lowell, a Physical Education teacher at Cartoogechaye Elementary, has been taking students up to Siler Bald for over 20 years. Yet, Tomberlin’s paralysis made this year’s annual hiking trip somewhat more cumbersome to coordinate.
Despite the problem, Lowell and her colleagues were determined to figure out a way to get Daniel up to the top so he could experience the woods and the spectacular fall views Siler Bald has to offer for the first time, but they could not think of a way to do so. After speaking with Nantahala Hiking Club member Bill VanHorn, Lowell decided to contact West Macon’s Fire Department to see if they had any ideas.
“Bill had recommended for me to call West Macon’s Fire Department, so I did, and I told them what we were trying to do,” said Lowell. “I called West Macon first, and they said they were on board and they could do something for us. They put their heads together and what they came up with was awesome. For him to be on this bald and on the Appalachian Trail, it is just amazing. Something that might have seemed unattainable, they made possible,” said Lowell.
“I know they will say that this was no big deal, but we couldn’t have done this without them and we are so appreciative. This is a really big deal for Daniel,” she said.
The collaborative efforts of the West Macon Fire Department and the Nantahala Hiking Club enabled Daniel to elevate over 5,000 feet, allowing him to take in incredible views that would make the most strident atheist question their beliefs.
“They were trying their best to figure out a way to get Daniel up here and they were pretty much out of options, and somebody had mentioned the fire department to her and she thought she would give us a call to see what we could do,” said West Macon Fire Chief and former Cartoogechaye Elementary student Josh Randall. “As soon as she mentioned it and said what it was about, there was no doubt in my mind that we were going to make it happen.” he said.
Randall and four other members of West Macon’s Fire Department did make it happen, configuring a stokes basket, mounted on a wheel, for
Daniel to ride in on his way to the top. The crew was also responsible for pulling Daniel from the trail head to Siler Bald and back, over a four mile roundtrip. Daniel was literally speechless for most of the trip, gazing at views that many people take for granted. Although he was upset his ride did not contain NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson’s #48 logo, Tomberlin’s appreciation was readily apparent. When asked how it felt to be 5,216 feet above sea level, Daniel simply responded, “it’s good.”
“I think it’s great what they are doing for him,” said Daniel’s mother Cindy, who joined the group on the hiking trip. “I can’t thank his classmates, teachers, and the school system enough for what they are doing for him today,” she said.
Daniel’s progress and maturation during the past four years cannot be understated. “He’s become so strong,” commented Lowell. “He did the entire fitness test this year. He does everything in P.E. by himself. He doesn’t want any special help, he does everything like everyone else.”
Daniel gets two cancer screenings per year and recently received his second screening a week ago, affirming his four year cancer free status.