Kansas town celebrates Christmas early for 3-year-old boy dying of cancer

Three-year-old Christian Risner will celebrate Christmas on Sunday in Lebo.

People across the nation will celebrate with him.

Doctors have told Josh and Sarah Risner their son has less than three months to live.

So people are putting up Christmas trees, hanging lights and posting on Facebook their own Christmas in solidarity with the little Coffey County boy who has terminal cancer.

On Sunday, many are baking foods for a giant potluck at the Lebo Baptist Church.

Santa will visit carrying a big bag of toys, enough to delight any 3-year-old.

A horse-drawn sleigh will transport Christian and his family around town to look at a wonderland of delights.

“He loves Christmas and we have told him Christmas comes on Sunday,” Sarah Risner said Thursday.

One morning – about 18 months ago – Sarah Risner noticed her son had blood in his diaper.

“He didn’t have a fever and didn’t seem to be in any pain,” she said.

She worried, called the doctor, then called more.

The Risners ended up going to Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City where Christian was diagnosed with Rhabdoid kidney cancer. The disease has caused tumors in his kidneys and lungs.

Last month, he underwent a procedure to drain 16 ounces of fluid from his lungs as he struggled to breath and experienced chest pains.

On Aug. 20, he was placed in hospice.

Kelly Freund of Lebo was moved by Christian’s struggles in fighting cancer.

She had her own health issues and nearly died.

She made a vow to God.

“I made a commitment that I was going to not just believe it, I was going to live my faith,” Freund said. “Whatever God wanted me to do to show faith, I would do.”

And so, not long ago, an idea came to her in the middle of the night: Help Christian celebrate Christmas.

“The idea has taken off like wildfire,” Freund said. “It has gone viral. I have gotten so many messages from people from so many different states. It’s pictures of people putting Christmas trees up in support of Christian.”

The city of Lebo, population 900, has been putting up Christmas lights. There are brightly lit trees in home and store windows.

Richard “Dick” Odum, pastor of the Lebo Baptist Church, said he has been moved by the little boy.

“For the last year and a half, we have been watching as this young man has walked through cancer treatment for which there is no cure,” Odum said. “Everything has been tried. For the last six months, his parents have chosen to let him be a little boy. He was in our Bible school and active. It is a hard deal to know he is hurting.”

The community dinner at the Lebo Baptist Church starts at 6 p.m. Sunday. People are asked to take a side dish or dessert. A silent auction will take place during the dinner. Proceeds will go to assist the Risner family with medical expenses.

On Thursday, Christian graduated from preschool.

“Some days are good, some aren’t,” Sarah Risner said. “I have come to accept and believe in my faith. I don’t know why God has chosen my child. I accept he needs him more than I need him and I don’t like it but I am grateful I get to be his mom.”

Beccy Tanner: 316-268-6336, @beccytanner