More than 200 students, faculty, and staff and members of the Easton community gathered in Kirby Field House on the first Saturday in December to help a 10-year-old with a rare form of cancer meet his goal of sending 1,000 origami cranes to every pediatric cancer hospital in the country.
Strains of holiday music filled the air as smooth-faced students and white-haired seniors threaded string through paper cranes to create the colorful mobiles that in Japanese folklore convey a message of hope for good health. Home-made cookies, popcorn, and a visit from the Leopard mascot completed the scene.
“Isn’t this great?” said David Heard, a fifth-grader at Easton Middle School and son of Tom Heard ’91. David initiated the crane folding project after Mary Jo Lodge, assistant professor of English, invited him and his family to a College Theater performance of A Thousand Cranes, which she directed at the Williams Center in September. “Maybe we can raise money for cancer research, too.”
Seven mobiles consisting of 1,000 cranes each were assembled at the stringing party and more would have been completed but, “We ran out of string,” said Lodge, who has started a web site to field the daily offers of help from cancer survivors, schools, scout troops, senior centers, and other groups.
“This event grew out of an interest to keep the momentum going,” said Lodge. “We received so many cranes from around the country. It could have just stopped with David, but he didn’t want it to be just about him getting a wish, but any child with pediatric cancer.”
A Thousand Cranes is based on the true life story of a 12-year-old Japanese girl who survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima but later developed leukemia. As a way to delay her impending death, she began making origami cranes in accordance with a Japanese legend that says anyone who folds a thousand cranes will be granted one wish. She died after folding nearly 660, but her family and friends completed the set and buried her with them.
David was captivated by the play and when it closed Lodge and her students gave him the cranes they had folded for the production. He then donated them to Lehigh Valley Hospital-Muhlenberg, one of the facilities where he is being treated for stage IV neuroblastoma, an often terminal cancer of the nervous system. When a local newspaper wrote about David’s gift of the Lafayette cranes and his dream of giving a set to each of the 220 pediatric cancer centers in the nation, people began sending boxes of the intricate birds to his home.
“I didn’t know what to do with them all,” said David’s mother, Susan Heard, who helped direct stringing efforts at the party. “It’s just incredible that so many students came out today.”
President Daniel Weiss called the event “a great day for David and Lafayette. I’m thrilled to see so many people out here working together for a cause that will be transformative for so many others. It really speaks to our community as a wonderful place.”
Jake McTighe ’14 (Butler, Pa.) said he decided to take a break from studying for final exams to honor David’s courage.
“It feels good to be a little bit of a help,” he said, plunging a needle and string through a paper crane. “Everybody is so supportive. It’s amazing.”
Dana Pardini ’12 (Whitehall, Pa), who appeared in the play, said she’s shocked by the outpouring of support and believes the crane project has united the community.
“He must have 25,000 cranes at his house,” she said. “I think it has really brought Easton and the College together. It’s so nice to see everyone working together for a common cause. I know it’s inspired me because David is so strong.”