WALLINGFORD — Community members have organized a fundraiser for Sheehan High School senior Connor Reed, who was diagnosed with acute disseminated encephalomyelitis earlier this month.
Connor Reed has been in the hospital since Jan. 2, said his father, Bob Reed. On New Year’s Eve, Connor Reed began complaining about a headache, his father said. When the headache remained the next day, Bob Reed brought him to the emergency room at MidState Medical Center. Doctors at the hospital diagnosed Connor Reed with viral meningitis on Jan. 2. He was transferred to Yale-New Haven Hospital, where the diagnosis was changed to acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, a rare inflammatory disease of the central nervous system. The disease affects about eight of one million people.
Connor Reed, 18, has received enormous support from his classmates and the surrounding community since his diagnosis.
“The support of the community has been overwhelming,” Bob Reed said. “People love Connor. People we don’t even know are willing to help us any way they can.”
A group of concerned community members, led by Susanne Jordan, have organized a pasta dinner to raise funds for Connor Reed’s recovery, his father said. The fundraiser is 5 p.m. on Feb. 6 in the Sheehan High School cafeteria. Tickets can be purchased in advance at Sheehan High School. Bob Reed said he doesn’t know Jordan personally, but her willingness to help out shows “the kind of people Wallingford has.”
People from all across the school district are pitching in to help the Reed family, School Superintendent Salvatore Menzo said.
Earlier in the day Feb. 6, Sheehan is hosting a dress-down day for students to raise more money.
Students are concerned about Connor Reed, Menzo said, because “he’s their classmate and their colleague.”
“Our thoughts and prayers are with Connor and his family,” he added.
It comes as no surprise to Menzo that the community has stepped up to help the Reed family.
“There are so many very sincerely concerned people when it comes to matters like this,” he said. “People are doing whatever they can. I feel proud to be a superintendent of a school district in a community like this.”
Much of the community support began with a Facebook page dedicated to Connor Reed created by his aunt, Danielle Reed Eiler. The page, titled Connor’s Corner, had 777 members as of Wednesday evening. Eiler, who lives in South Carolina, said she decided to start the Facebook page as a way to help from afar. The amount of support on the page was unexpected, she said.
“The community of Wallingford is just amazing to me,” Eiler said. “The love and compassion and the people who have been reaching out has been incredible.”
There are dozens of messages and photos on the page in support of Connor. Many messages are stories from classmates. A majority of the photos show mailboxes with ribbons and notes attached that urge Connor Reed to stay strong “till 100.”
The idea for the ribbons and the “till 100” phrase first came from local resident Jenni French, Eiler said. People from all over the community, and in other states, have followed along, she said. In a message, French explained that she began the “till 100” phrase because Bob Reed was posting updates about his son’s condition on Facebook using a 1-to-100 scale. After starting out close to zero, the scale has climbed to 12-out-of-100, Reed said.
The disease has rendered Connor Reed paralyzed, his father said. Connor Reed had a breathing tube for 16 days, he said, but the tube was taken out Tuesday. While he is slowly recovering, there are other complications now, such as pneumonia, Bob Reed said. About 70 percent of those with Connor Reed’s disease fully recover. Another 20 percent recover with permanent side effects, Bob Reed said. Either way, the road to recovery is long and costly, he said.
Connor Reed has always been athletic and active, Eiler said, “so we’re hoping he’ll be able to rehab a little faster.”
Bob Reed said his son is captain of the tennis team at Sheehan this year. Connor Reed also enjoys cheering on his fellow classmates, he said. Until he became ill, Connor was part of Sheehan’s “Titan Pit,” a group of students who attend sporting events to show school spirit. Sheehan’s Jan. 17 boy’s basketball game was dedicated to Connor Reed. Tickets were free; students were instead asked to donate to the Reed family. The fundraiser brought in more than $1,000, Reed said.
Connor hopes to attend college after graduation, Bob Reed said. While he changes his mind often, Connor Reed recently told his father he wanted to become a lawyer.
“He’s just a very caring kid who likes helping people,” he said.