CLEARWATER — Online social networking and some viral Internet marketing saved a family whose child has leukemia from financial ruin. So far Aidan Reed, 5, and his family have sold more than 4,500 prints of his crayon and marker drawings of monsters and other creepy characters on a crafts website.
That means some $50,000 for his family, which learned Aidan had leukemia in September, weeks before Katie Reed gave birth to her second child.
Aidan's father had to take unpaid leave from his job at Cessna to help out.
That's when a relative in Peoria, Ill., trying to provide some long-distance solace to her Kansas family, put prints of Aidan's drawings for sale on the Web.
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Buoyed by a network of bloggers and the mainstream news media, Aidan's story has spread around the world.
Aid for Aidan — a Facebook page set up by the family — has more than 5,000 "likes," or subscribers.
And sales of his drawings keep climbing.
"It's been overwhelming," said Wylie Reed, Aidan's father.
Katie Reed was nine months pregnant when her 5-year-old started coughing.
Aidan began bruising easily and was slow healing. As the 27-year-old mother prepared to give birth to her second child, she learned her first-born had leukemia.
"That was a pretty emotional day," Reed said. "I started having false contractions, and I thought I was going into labor. But he waited until his brother got home from the hospital."
Art on the Web
That's when Mandi Ostein, Wylie Reed's sister, decided to sell Aidan's artwork online.
Ostein, a 2002 graduate of Maize High School, started putting prints of the drawings on the crafts website Etsy.com. She priced them at $12 apiece.
"We have a lot of family here in Clearwater who were helping out, and I think Mandi wanted to do something to provide some comfort since she was so far away," Wylie Reed said.
Ostein's goal: Sell 60 before Thanksgiving.
But once word spread across the Web, sales climbed into the tens of thousands of dollars —$12 at a time.
"It's something that's going to help, but we haven't touched it yet," Wylie Reed said.
"We didn't expect this, and no one knew how to deal with it financially," he added. "We have to figure out how to pay taxes on this and things like that. No one in our family is what you'd call financial experts."
Wylie Reed said his brother-in-law, who works for Caterpillar Inc. in Peoria, has sought advice from financial and tax experts.
The Reeds have health insurance through Cessna, where Wylie trains people to work the factory line.
With Aidan going through chemotherapy, and the birth of his son Amry Sept. 26, Wylie has had to take a month off work, through the Family and Medical Leave Act.
The act gives him up to 12 weeks off, unpaid.
"If that continues, that's one-fourth of my income I may lose this year," Wylie said. "And I still have to pay the insurance premiums, union dues and other things that come out of your paycheck."
Plus there are co-payments and deductibles for Aidan's medical care.
Acute lymphoblastic leukemia
On Sept. 11, Aidan was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia — ALL.
ALL is one of the most common cancers in children, according to the National Cancer Institute. About 1 in 4 cancer patients under age 15 suffers from ALL.
"We were devastated for about five hours, before we talked to the doctor," Wylie Reed said.
What they learned is that ALL has an 85 percent survival rate.
The National Cancer Institute calls treatments for ALL "one of the great success stories in cancer treatment." Forty years ago, only about 5 percent of patients survived.
Aidan had difficulties early in chemotherapy at Wesley Medical Center and had a setback with an infection.
The family has chronicled his battle with the disease on its personal blog and on its Facebook page.
A love of monsters
Aidan has always loved monsters, his parents say.
He likes to dress up in costumes.
"In preschool, his teacher would say draw a letter, and Aidan would turn it into a monster," Katie Reed said.
Aidan started kindergarten at Clearwater West Elementary in August, and his teacher immediately noticed his drawing skills, said principal Diane Nickelson.
Aidan had to quit school after only a few weeks.
Nickelson said Aidan will begin kindergarten again next year.
"But I talked to Katie, and we're going to send some kindergarten work home to him, to give him something to do so he won't get bored," Nickelson said.
With all the demand for his artwork, that doesn't seem likely.
Wylie Reed said doctors say Aidan is responding to the treatment. The boy, who is under the care of Wichita pediatric oncologist David Rosen, felt well enough to go trick-or-treating on Halloween.
"We pulled him in a wagon and stayed within our immediate neighborhood," Wylie Reed said of his son's fatigue.
Aidan dressed as a monster, of course, Jigsaw — star of the "Saw" horror movies.
"People always ask, 'Does he watch those movies?' No, he doesn't," Wylie Reed said. "He saw the costume in a Halloween store, and that's what he wanted."
Katie Reed, meanwhile, is glad for the support, especially from her family nearby.
"Some days, I really don't know how I make it," she said. "I just do what I have to do. We try to stay strong."