MOULTRIE, Ga. — The community is rallying around a 2-year-old Moultrie girl who was diagnosed last month with a brain tumor.
Charlotte Wheeler was diagnosed May 7 with an astrocytoma brain tumor at Wolfson Children's Hospital in Jacksonville, Fla.
In January, Charlotte's parents and siblings were alarmed when Charlotte began to vomit without explanation during a family vacation.
Charlotte's appetite also began to progressively decline during this time, and she lost 7-8 pounds even as her diet was tweaked and doctors were consulted.
These symptoms continued to present themselves intermittently over the next few weeks. Then, when Charlotte beginning to lose her motor functions in March, she was referred to a neurologist.
On May 5, Chad Wheeler, Charlotte's father and coach for outside linebackers for the Packers varsity football team, and his wife, Sara, a special education math teacher at Colquitt County High School, scheduled their appointment.
The first available session was on June 29.
By the early morning of May 7, the Wheeler family was in the Wolfson Children's Hospital emergency room, and by 1 p.m., they were signing the papers for surgery. A CT scan, prompted by Charlotte's low blood pressure, revealed a large brain tumor that had been impacting Charlotte's development.
After steps were taken to relieve pressure and fluid in Charlotte's brain, the outlook of the Wheeler family was positive.
“It's a tumor and we can fight a tumor,” said Chad Wheeler.
Those words have become a mantra for the Wheeler family as Charlotte's tests and chemotherapy were scheduled.
The laboratory is working to identify Charlotte's astrocytoma brain tumor as either Grade 2 or Grade 3. Her chemotherapy began on June 15.
On May 25, a second CT scan showed no signs of tumor growth.
Support for the Wheeler family has been exceptional, coming from the communities of Moultrie, Jacksonville, Atlanta, and Tampa, Fla.
“We've never felt alone financially, emotionally, or spiritually,” said Wheeler.
Support came from the Packers Praying for Charlotte T-shirt fundraiser, an effort by Stephanie Windon, a teacher and colleague at Colquitt County High School.
The Pray for Charlotte fundraiser, an effort by Kristen Brogdon, the early childhood care director of Moultrie YMCA, started selling yard signs for $20 each on May 12 to support the Wheeler family.
They have sold over 200 signs. Brogdon said that some purchases have come with additional donations as well.
Chad Wheeler said the support was extremely appreciated.
“We've been able to use that as a jumpstart on these early doctor bills,” he said.
Alongside local fundraisers, the Wheeler family was encouraged by friends to start a GoFundMe for Charlotte's medical expenses, an option finally taken on May 21 after they knew the initial diagnosis.
The initial GoFundMe target was set at $75,000, but Wheeler has said that the costs for the treatment could change due to the lingering uncertainties surrounding the severity of Charlotte's condition.
“It's a moving target right now,” said Wheeler.
As of June 17, the GoFundMe has raised $17,717.
The optimism of the Wheeler family isn't solely from the parents. Wheeler has said that Charlotte has continued to express her love for her family.
“She's still a 2-year-old at heart,” he said. “She still wants to play.”
Due to her limited motor functions, Charlotte's sisters, Adeline, 7, and Riley, 4, have to come to her for playtime.
Outside of playtime, Charlotte spends her time enjoying Elmo and Baby Shark on the TV, while making no attempt to hide how boring she finds her father's college football.
Wheeler has said that his daughter has always been quirky and very vocal. He is thankful she has stayed in such high spirits.
To prepare for Charlotte's chemotherapy treatment, a feeding tube is used to increase her caloric intake, to fight the weight loss from her decreased appetite and to allow her the proper nutrients.
Wheeler has said that the family is settling in for the 60-week process of Charlotte's treatment and is grateful to the community they've only been a part of for a year.
“The community has gotten behind us,” said Wheeler, “They've put their loving arms around us.”