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"They cried when I did" | Sertoma Center serves as helping hand for family fighting cancer battle

Sertoma has 33 forever homes which house 85 people across the Knox County area.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Dennis Smith is a collector. He has dozens of small cars in all different colors, baskets from the dollar tree, and a handful of sunglasses.

"He's got a whole bunch, that's true," his sister Betty said, laughing.

She says he has been this way since he was three-years-old. However, as most children would have grown out of it, Dennis didn't.

Dennis and his brother Randall got measles when they were three and five-years-old. Through the virus, the brothers developed encephalitis; which is a swelling of the brain. Often times, this condition can leave a child with intellectual disability. 

"My parents called them our Gentle Giants, and I call them my Earth Angels," Betty said.

Betty always looked out for her brothers. 

"Children sometimes are cruel," Betty remembered, "They would make fun of my brothers because they didn't talk plain." 

However, Betty was there to fight back, even when Dennis and Randall couldn't. 

"I later was a pitcher when I played softball, but I got the practice in by defending them," Betty said.

According to Betty, Dennis' brain is about three years old, even though his body is 65. He requires one-on-one attention to do a lot of day to day activities.

"As the oldest, you don't ask for it. But you get given the responsibility to take care of the other of them. I just physically cannot do it by myself," Betty said.

For the past 20 years, Dennis and Randall have been living in a Sertoma forever home. The organization has 30 of these homes across Knox County, which house 85 individuals with varying ability levels.

Michael Smith with the Sertoma Center said the forever homes are one of the most important facets of the organization.

"That means they live with us full time, we have 24 hour care. It allows the family to visit, allows the family to continue with their career, have their family moments and be able to visit and know that on a day to day basis, their loved one is taken care of," Michael said.

Randall passed away two years ago and Dennis got a new roommate. They have been getting along great, laughing at each other's jokes and helping to take care of one another.

Betty said Sertoma has become a part of their family.

"When Randall passed away two years ago, as we were watching him let go Sertoma was right there with me, every second, when they took him out," Betty said, "They cried when I did."

She said every person that ever worked with Randall at Sertoma attended his funeral.

Now, Betty is feeling the Sertoma support again. 14 months ago, Dennis was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus. 

"I've been terrified. I've been scared, but they haven't missed one step with me. They know everything that's going on. They know what he needs," Betty said.

According to Betty, that's been the greatest blessing. 

"It's not just the treatment that he gets, it's the treatment that I get. I mean, they listen to me and they worry with me," Betty said.

Just as family does, in the hardest of times.