MARSHALL - Cash Heemeyer was just six months old when he had a bout of RSV, respiratory syncytial virus, more than two years ago. He had recovered from that, but his parents, Adam and Marcy Heemeyer of Marshall, soon noticed there was something else wrong.
"We just couldn't get him to wake up from a nap one day," Marcy Heemeyer said. So the couple took Cash to the emergency room in Marshall. They didn't know what was wrong, Marcy Heemeyer said, and Cash stayed there overnight.
Cash was suffering from seizures and the family went by ambulance to Avera McKennan in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Photo by Cindy Votruba
At just six months old, Cash Heemeyer of Marshall was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis. While he was at the Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis, his parents, Adam and Marcy Heemeyer, stayed at the Ronald McDonald House. The Heemeyers decided to give back to the Ronald McDonald House by starting a service project called “Cash’s Cans,”?where they collect pop tabs and other items.
It was then learned that Cash had bacterial meningitis.
Today, Cash is a healthy, almost 3-year-old boy. He and his parents were recently honored with the 2012 Kelsey Lynn Roberg Spirit Award by the Ronald McDonald House Upper Midwest at its annual golf classic for their ongoing service project, Cash's Cans.
The Kelsey Lynn Roberg Spirit award was created in 2007 to honor a little girl who never let cancer stand in her way of living life to the fullest.
After being taken to Sioux Falls, Cash had a spinal tap and a brain tap, but he was still having seizures. Cash also had a couple of blood transfusions.
"He just went downhill real fast then," Marcy Heemeyer said.
She said doctors in Sioux Falls told her they couldn't do anything more for Cash.
Cash was then flown to Children's Hospital in Minneapolis.
"It wasn't good," Marcy Heemeyer said.
Cash remained at Children's Hospital for almost two months.
"They said it was the most resilient form of bug of meningitis that they had ever seen," Marcy Heemeyer said.
Cash had two brain surgeries and tubes were put in his ears. Adam and Marcy Heemeyer were on the waiting list for the Ronald McDonald House for just a few days and were fortunate enough to stay there while Cash was at Children's.
The Heemeyers said Cash was nine months old when he was released from the hospital and they were glad to be able to bring him home.
Cash then had to undergo a year of occupational and physical therapy.
"He couldn't even lift his head off the floor," Adam Heemeyer said.
The seizures had affected Cash's right side, but today, he's extremely active.
"He's made great strides," Marcy Heemeyer said.
For his first birthday party, the Heemeyers had asked guests to not bring any gifts as people had been so generous while Cash was in the hospital. Instead, they asked for things that were on the Ronald McDonald House's wish list, such as laundry detergent and paper supplies.
"We got a whole truckload of stuff," Marcy Heemeyer said.
The Heemeyers also asked for pop tabs, which help the Ronald McDonald House Charities Upper Midwest. Eventually those pop tabs became a service project of the Heemeyers, called Cash's Cans.
"We wanted to do something more," Marcy Heemeyer said. "There's no way we could ever pay them back."
Marcy Heemeyer said that they have distributed more than 1,000 collection houses for the Ronald McDonald House in about 16 different states.
"He's become the youngest ambassador the Ronald McDonald House has," Marcy Heemeyer said about Cash.
Individuals, families, schools, community organizations and businesses, locally and nationally, are helping out with the Cash's Cans project. The Heemeyers get pop tabs in many different fashions.
"They show up from all over the place," Marcy Heemeyer said. Marcy Heemeyer said pop tabs show up on their doorstep, on their desks at work and through the mail. The family also has a Facebook page set up for Cash's Cans.
"He's (Cash) excited when the tabs (arrive)," Marcy Heemeyer said.
Cash was weaned off his seizure medications last October, and he doesn't have to go to the neurologist on a regular basis anymore. He also recently graduated from audiology care.
But, Marcy Heemeyer said, he does have to see a neurosurgeon every now and again for the rest of his life.
"He knows he has to go to the doctor (a lot)," Marcy Heemeyer said. She said that her son was also not a fan of CT scans.
The Heemeyers were grateful and humbled by the award and Cash got to say "thank you" into the microphone at the golf classic. WCCO's Jason DeRusha was the event's emcee, and the Heemeyers received the award from John Stanoch, CEO of the Ronald McDonald House Upper Midwest.
And as Cash turns 3 years old on Aug. 24, his family still continues to collect pop tabs and supplies for the place that supported them the most in their time of need.
"It's pretty cool how this little guy has inspired" Marcy Heemeyer said.