Cardinals ‘adopt’ child battling brain tumor


Gadsden State Community College’s student-athletes are forging a bond with a child fighting a battle far greater than any game. Levi Worthington is an 8-year-old boy from Susan Moore who has been diagnosed with ependymoma, a tumor that affects the brain and spinal cord.

Levi is the third child to join the Gadsden State Cardinals through a partnership with Friends of Jaclyn Foundation, a non-profit organization that connects children battling brain tumors with college and high school sports teams. A special signing event to signal Levi’s “adoption” as a Cardinal was held April 29 at the Beck Conference Center.

“It’s a tremendous day for us and for the Worthington family,” said GSCC Athletic Director Blake Lewis. “Gadsden State is honored to contribute to the mission of the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation and to the lives of these young people.”

Amanda Worthington, Levi’s mother, said it was 18 months ago when her child started getting sick, was becoming increasingly confused about simple things and lost 20 pounds in three weeks.

“It got to the point that we could hardly get him to wake up,” she said.

Just a few days before his seventh birthday, a CT scan revealed a large mass on his brain. He was rushed to Children’s of Alabama and admitted to pediatric intensive care in preparation for brain surgery.

“He was lethargic and had a heart rate of only 23 beats per minute,” she said. “We just prayed that God would have His hand in it.”

Levi underwent a four-hour surgery that showed the tumor was crushing his brainstem and wrapped around his spinal cord. Two weeks after the surgery and a shunt insertion, he took his first round of chemotherapy.

“It’s an awful, nasty poison but you pray that it works; that it shrinks the tumor,” Worthington said of chemotherapy.

“Unfortunately, it fed his cancer, and the tumor grew three times bigger. It was a devastating blow.”

Over the past year, Levi has undergone several rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. He also takes medication.

“He has taken everything like a champ,” she said. “He never complains. He takes things better than most adults. He really is one of the bravest souls I know.”

Worthington said Levi is one of six children. All of his siblings provide daily support and encouragement.

“They have been there for him every step of the way,” she said. “This process has been a nightmare, and we are only surviving because we are a close-knit family. Levi is a lucky little boy with siblings he can rely on. This is their day, too. I want to thank them for always being so supportive.”

Denis Murphy, founder of the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation, attended the signing event and shared how the foundation programs are making a difference in the lives of over 1,000 children nationwide.

“Gadsden State is the only college in the country that has an entire athletic department committed to these children,” he said. “Typically, it’s only one or two teams at a college. At Gadsden State, all of the teams are committed to these kids.”

The Foundation was founded after his daughter, Jaclyn, was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor in 2004 when she was only 9 years old. While in the hospital, a lacrosse team poster inspired her father to encourage Jaclyn that she would one day be like the players on the poster – happy and excited by a victory. Later, she was adopted by a collegiate lacrosse team as an honorary member.

“The team was inspired by Jaclyn, and Jaclyn was encouraged by the team,” Murphy said. “They made her feel like she’s part of a team. I knew I had to help kids like Jaclyn. They all need to have a team like Jaclyn did.”

Jaclyn celebrated 20 years of being disease-free on March 26, and the family continues the mission of uplifting children living with pediatric brain tumors.

“Our mission is to improve the quality of life for these kids,” he said. “We want them to enjoy themselves and forget sometimes that they’re sick.”

Lewis said that Levi will be a part of the Cardinal family for life.

“We aim to provide support and a sense of belonging to Levi and his entire family,” he said. “We believe in the power of sports. We certainly welcome them to the Cardinal family.”

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