VINLAND — It was Ian Gunnell’s first day of first grade.
The Vinland Elementary student hadn’t been at school for more than a few hours before he was pulled out to be taken to Seattle Children’s Hospital. He hasn't been back to school since.
Ian, 6, was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia. So rare that 25 children are known to have it in the world.
Despite the diagnosis, the Gunnell family has stayed positive.
Chris Gunnell, Ian’s father, said Children’s had never seen a case of leukemia like Ian’s. The doctors, he said, admitted they did not know how to treat the cancer. It was horrifying. “But we have to be positive and fight this thing,” Gunnell said.
The type of leukemia is known as blastic plasmacytoid dendritic cell neoplasm. It’s usually found in elderly men.
So there, in the hospital, Chris Gunnell came up with Positive Fight Mode, a slogan that is motivating Ian’s circle of supporters in the hospital and in Kitsap County.
For starters, Alive Covenant Church raised $1,400 and was the first to contribute to the fundraising campaign after raising money from a lemonade/coffee stand for two days during North Kitsap Soccer Club games.
To support one of their own, Vinland Elementary staff, students and parents have raised about $1,700 to help defray the cost of Ian’s expensive treatment.
Vinland office manager Heather Ben-Judah was responsible for counting donations during the first day fundraising began. On the first day, donations reached about $640, she said.
The cost of one chemotherapy treatment for Ian is $150,000.
There are four phases of intense treatment, according to Gunnell. It’s a treatment schedule that Gunnell predicts will take “years and years.” Ian will begin his next phase of treatment next week. He is expected to be in Seattle for at least six months.
Positive Fight Mode initiated
The community is rallying behind Ian in what family friend Melisa Holmes is calling “grassroots momentum.” Fundraisers are springing up all over.
The next opportunity to donate to Ian’s treatment will be this Friday, Oct. 19 during the rivalry football game between Kingston and North Kitsap high schools. Kickoff is 7 p.m. at North Kitsap Stadium. Donations will be accepted at the ticket booth and throughout the night and bracelets will be sold.
The football fundraiser was unanimously approved by the Associated Student Body, according to athletic director Chris Franklin. Franklin also coordinates school activities, such as ASB.
Franklin and assistant principal John Waller thought this would be a way “for both communities to come together and support one of our own students going through a time of need,” Franklin said.
The Gunnell family includes NKHS senior Andrew, freshman Rachel, 10-year-old Vinland student Jenna, and mother Tanya. The family is currently split between their home in Poulsbo, and Seattle. Tanya and Jenna both live within the vicinity of the hospital, while Andrew, Chris and Rachel maintain residence in Poulsbo.
The fundraising opportunities continue this weekend. On Saturday, Oct. 20 at 7 p.m., a concert will be held at Global Bean, 2021 NW Myhre Road, Silverdale. The concert will include musicians from throughout the area, including Andrew and Rachel. Andrew plays guitar, Rachel sings.
On Oct. 21 and 28, Farmhouse Organics in Poulsbo will host dinner for $100 per plate. The proceeds will benefit the campaign. Reservations can be made by calling (206) 713-0977.
Harlan Chiropractic, 17791 Fjord Drive NE, Poulsbo, will treat patients for free Oct. 29 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. There is a suggested donation of $30 per visit. (360) 779-4900 for appointments; walk-in welcome.
A benefit for Ian will be held at the Minder Meats and Farm corn maze Oct. 30, 5-9 p.m., 4921 Auto Center Blvd., Bremerton. Tickets are $8. Half of the ticket sales will go to the Gunnells. There will be a DJ, bake sale and costume contest at 7 p.m. (bring a flashlight).
Mor Mor Bistro and Bar will donate 25 percent of proceeds Nov. 1 to the Gunnells. The menu will feature Ian’s favorite foods for $35; 100 percent of money from each special will be donated to the Gunnells. Toys and art supplies will also be accepted for Ian.
Poulsbo dentist Lance Rencher is offering free sports guards to children younger than 18 in an ongoing promotion. Suggested donation: $30. Schedule a fitting by calling (360) 779-4141.
Poulsbo attorney Richard Tizzano will donate 25 percent of proceeds from each estate plan he does to the campaign. Appointments can be scheduled by calling (360) 779-5551.
“If there was any question that people don’t care about each other anymore, this disproves it,” Holmes said.
Holmes met Tanya Gunnell when the family moved to Washington. Her son, also a Vinland student, and Ian are friends. She’s known Ian since he was a few months old, she said.
Holmes has helped spearhead the fundraiser. Though the goal is to raise $100,000 as a community, Holmes expects much more will be raised.
As of Oct. 16, the fundraising campaign raised more than $20,000, according to Holmes. That money was raised in three weeks. The first donation was made Sept. 30.
“And we’re still counting,” Holmes said.
Throughout all of this, Ian has been strong, Chris Gunnell said. He said it was difficult for Ian when he was on steroids early on — he will start-up on steroids again soon. But “he’s doing really well right now,” Gunnell said.
And no matter what, Gunnell said his son is always showing his game face. Ian always says he’s good, no matter what.
Dinner, silent auction Oct. 20 for Jacobi Henry
Bainbridge Islanders are also asking for help to support 1 1/2-year-old Jacobi Henry, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor in August. Read more about Jacobi at the Bainbridge Island Review's site.