Boy fights cancer with 27,000 new friends

12:22 AM, Jan 11, 2013   |    comments
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Facebook became a valuable tool for a Sevier County family after their son was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer.

More than 27,000 pledged their prayers and became friends with the Rootin' for Regen Facebook page.

Thursday was Regen Morris' 12th birthday. He should have been at Phi Beta Phi Elementary School in Gatlinburg with his friends watching his older brothers play basketball.

Instead, he will fall asleep in a hospital bed.

Three and a half months ago, Regen was a normal kid.

He was the high scorer on his sixth grade basketball team. He loved to lend a helping hand, says aunt Joy Maples, regardless of the chore.

But Maples recalls one day, doing homework with Regen at her kitchen table.

"We were doing a book report and he said 'can you write what I say? 'Cuz I can't make my hand write what's in my brain.'"

She said she thought he'd had a stroke. He went into the hospital in early November and hasn't come out since.

Within 60 days Regen lost nearly all motor function. He communicates now by blinking his eyes.

Doctors finally diagnosed Regen with Anaplastic Astocytoma, a vine-like tumor growth that spread throughout his brain.

Maples describes her nephew as quiet, but larger than life.

He's the kind of kid others are drawn to, and Maples says he would urge her to be a "leader, not a follower."

"There's something special about Regen. His smile is crazy contagious."

His Facebook page became contagious too. Within days it had thousands of friends. On Thursday at 4 p.m. it had around 27,577. By 11 p.m. more than 200 had been added.

Maples says he thrives on positive energy, so having a place for friends to offer prayers and encouragement makes a difference.

Regen suffers severe muscle spasms these days, but Maples says he always does better on days when he gets to hear from friends.

"We are a family of faith. We have always been a family of faith. We believe whole-heartedly, God is protecting Regen," says Maples.

"We wanted as many prayers as we could have because we just felt that maybe God would hear us if we could just get a little louder every time."

The page seems bottomless. Thousands of people post messages, pictures, prayers and videos.

Nearly every area school as posted tributes, and so have some celebrities.

Tim Tebow holds up a sign in one photo affirming his foundation is "Rootin' for Regen."

Many who post leave the family a personal message of how Regen's story has brought them faith.

"That's the same story over and over, 'he's smiling that smile, he just made me believe something was good here again,'" says Maples.

She says they're not sure what God has in store for Regen.

"We believe God is going to do something big. We don't know what that is, but he's setting the stage," says Maples.

Twenty-seven thousand strong, and rootin' for recovery.

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