Sentinel-Echo.com

Local News

May 6, 2010

Their biggest fan

London store honors cancer survivor

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — His stature may be on the petite side, but 12-year-old Cody Smith's spirit is far from small.

His strength and loyalty were recognized with a ceremony Saturday at the London Lowe’s store.

Described as “a real Lowe’s fan,” Smith and his family came from their Manchester home for a special presentation to honor the boy’s love of Lowe’s and his favorite NASCAR star, Jimmie Johnson. Johnson drives the Lowe’s No. 48 car.

Though he stands less than 4 feet fall, Smith, who is surviving a tough battle with cancer, walked into the London store with the confidence of a giant. Clad in a Jimmie Johnson T-shirt and a Lowe’s cap on his head, he had no idea that Saturday’s celebration was all about him.

“Cody, we heard about you and how much you love Lowe’s and Jimmie Johnson,” Store Manager John Masters said. “So Charlie (Banks), our department manager, wrote a letter to our corporate office and we have some things for you.”

With that, Masters began pulling items out of a box, beginning with a teddy bear dressed in the familiar blue T-shirt with number 48. Other items included a metal parking sign for “Jimmie Johnson fans only,” a set of four coins with the dates of Johnson’s four Brickyard 500 wins, a scaled model of Johnson’s No. 48 car and a racing jacket like the one Johnson wears.

Though he had little to say, the glow on Smith’s face needed no words of description. After accepting all his gifts, he walked over to look at the cake made in his honor — a race track with Jimmie Johnson’s name above the winner’s circle.

For Smith’s family, Saturday was a special treat. The youngest child of Donnie and Lisa Smith, Cody was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in September 2002 at age 5. He underwent chemotherapy but relapsed on his birthday the following year. The family traveled to Cincinnati, where Cody had a stem cell transplant.

“That transplant lasted almost two years,” said his mother. “Then he had a second bone marrow transplant with a live donor, but I still don’t know who the donor is.”

That transplant seems to have been successful and if Cody continues with no further relapses until February 2011, doctors will consider him cured.

“They say if you go for five years without a relapse you are considered cured,” Lisa Smith said. “We went to Cincinnati two weeks ago for a checkup and with every year that passes, the chances are greater that he will get better.”

Lisa, a stay at home mother of three, has been busy for the past few years caring for her son. But when he returned to school full-time this year, she went to work.

“I was so used to him (Cody) being there and when he went to school, I couldn’t stand it,” she said. “He is really a walking miracle. They told us when he had that second transplant, very few survived.”

While he recuperated and improved from his surgeries, Cody spent time watching his favorite NASCAR driver compete in the various races. His dream, like many other NASCAR fans, was to meet Jimmie Johnson — a dream that came true four years ago.

“He met Jimmie in 2006, when Jimmie got his first win at the Brickyard 500,” Lisa said, “and he’s (Johnson) has won every time since.”

Though Smith and his family attended the practice and qualifying races and met Johnson, Cody’s dream is to watch an actual race.

“Someone donated tickets for us to go to the qualifying races and meet Jimmie Johnson but Cody has never seen a real race,” she said. “We’re hoping that he can do that someday.”

Meeting the young boy with a serious illness is part of the role of The Jimmie Johnson Foundation, which was established by Johnson and his wife, Chandra. The Jimmie Johnson Foundation supports other charitable organizations, such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which grants the wishes of children with terminal and chronic illnesses; and American Red Cross disaster relief. The foundation built a four-lane bowling alley for children with chronic and life-threatening illness at the Victory Junction Gang Camp.

For more information about The Jimmie Johnson Foundation, visit www.jimmiejohnsonfoundation.org.

Staff writer Nita Johnson can be reached by e-mail at njohnson@sentinel-echo.com.

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