Parent offers praise for school during son's illness

By Matt Bunke, Community Editor

When a Watertown-Mayer middle school student was stricken with a rare illness in February, requiring numerous trips to the hospital and frequent days of missed school, his mother was understandably concerned for both the future health of her son, and how he would be able to keep up with his school work.

But with her son now returned pretty much to full to health, thanks in part to ongoing daily injections that will last for at least the next two years, Watertown resident Doty Mosford says she’s more than impressed that numerous administrators, teachers and staff members at the middle school seemed equally concerned with the well being of her son, Drake, during his recent two-month battle with Systemic Onset Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis.

Doty Mosford sad principal Bob Hennen and teacher Tom Dressen, in particular, stood out, as well as numerous office staff members who offered emotional support when she would visit the office with tears in her eyes. Mosford says Dressen and Hennen both not only worked tirelessly to make sure Drake’s school work would not be an issue while he was out, but went far above and beyond their call of duty with frequent text messages to check on Drake’s health.

Dressen, she said, even took time out of one class to have students call Drake in the hospital. Mosford said that in a time when schools typically seem to receive attention only when they fail to offer the care and attention a student needs, she just wants to see the Watertown-Mayer staff recognized for their care and support.

"I don’t think for a minute Drake would have been able to make it as well as he did without Mr. Hennen and Mr. Dressen," Mosford said. "He knew he could go into Bob’s office any time. Every day Bob checked in whether it was a text or a voicemail, evening or whenever. If I needed something, he’d instantly e-mail me back, or he’d say he’d take care of it. He told Drake not to worry about anything."

It took doctors more than a month after the onset of symptoms to properly diagnose Drake’s illness, which Mosford said inflicts only one in 1,000 children. However, by ultimately catching the illness in time, Mosford said doctors were able to prevent the full onset of arthritis, which would have hindered Drake’s physical mobility for the rest of his life.

Still, from the onset of symptoms on Feb. 9 to the diagnosis on March 20, when Drake received his first treatment injection, Mosford said her son experienced severe pain that caused him to need help getting around. He also lost large amounts of weight, being unable to eat more than 500 calories a day during that time.

"He went from 13-year-old boy to a 95-year-old man," Doty Mosford said. "He couldn’t lift his legs. My husband had to carry him or he had to go in wheelchair. He couldn’t get up the stairs at school. It was scary."

It was during that time that Mosford said she was so grateful for the caring support from numerous staff members at the school, who made it easier for both her and her son to get through the challenging, and at times, emotional ordeal. Mosford was so thankful that she contacted the Department of Education, which resulted in state commissioner Brenda Cassellius sending Hennen a letter of commendation.

Hennen said the well-being of the student was always the top priority, and that many staff members at the school played a role in being flexible and willing to understand what Drake was going through.

"He was going through a personal sickness," Hennen said. "What I tried to do was work with teachers, work with Drake’s family and work with Drake and help him get through the situation where academically he could do the best he could, but most importantly, get healthy.

"As a school, we tried to do what’s best for Drake. His health was our main concern. We were willing to do whatever it took to get him healthy and also caught up academically."

Drake’s illness is in remission, and he said he’s pretty much back to full health. However, he will still have to continue receiving injections on a daily basis for roughly the next 2 years, which both he and his family are trained to administer.

Drake also said it meant a lot to him that a principal and teacher would care as much as they did about his condition.

"I wouldn’t have survived without them," Drake said. "They made sure they took care of everything."