Harlem Department of Public Safety Chief Gary Jones said he’d rather head into a gun fight than jump into a pool of cold water, but he did it anyway Thursday as part of the viral polar plunge challenge.
“I’d rather face a car load of illegal aliens with sawed-off shotguns,” Jones said as he stood on the edge of a friend’s pool ready to accept the challenge.
He dived into the 57-degree water not to fulfill the challenge, but to raise money for 5-year-old Addysen Busby, who needs surgery to cope with a recent illness.
Jones said that his sister challenged him to enter the cold water but that he didn’t initially take the bait.
“I said I wasn’t jumping into cold water. I said I would for a worthy cause and asked for donations to Addy’s Army,” he said. “I said I’m not jumping in no water unless I’m doing it for a cause. And that’s a good cause.”
Addysen, a kindergartner at Euchee Creek Elementary School, was recently diagnosed with a Chiari malformation. It is a congenital malformation in which the cerebellum, a lower section of the brain, is crowded in the skull and moves out of its proper place to block the hole at the bottom of the skull and the flow of cerebrospinal fluid from the cranial cavity into the spinal canal.
In October, the normally active and healthy child went colorblind then had a seizure hours later, said her mother, LeighAnne Busby, of Harlem.
Since then, Addysen’s symptoms multiplied to include daily headaches, extreme fatigue, painful legs, dizziness and numb hands. Every cough, laugh and sneeze causes Addysen headaches.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Busby said. “Every other day, it was a new symptom. She’s not doing very well compared to how she was before all this started. I know it could always be worse.”
Katy Yeargain, the principal of Euchee Creek Elementary, described Addysen as a petite blonde with an infectious laugh. She’s quiet, Yeargain said, but very sweet. Busby pulled her out of school in November as her symptoms progressed. The school is the fundraising hub for the family.
“She has pretty much stopped laughing,” Busby said. “When she laughs, it hurts.”
Addysen is the youngest of the family with four siblings – Gabe, 12; Taylor, 11; Mackenzie, 9; and Olivia, 7 – and her father, Nick.
There is no cure for Chiari malformation. The Busbys found a surgeon in Atlanta who can perform the needed surgery, the only known treatment for the condition. The surgery entails removing a section of Addysen’s skull to allow more room for the cerebellum and to reduce pressure on the brain stem, which controls the body’s vital functions. She’ll also undergo spinal surgery to tilt her skull and fuse her skull and vertebrae to take pressure off the front of the brain stem.
Without the surgery, Busby said, her daughter’s symptoms will get worse and her condition will likely deteriorate, possibly leading to more serious, potentially fatal, consequences.
Busby said a New York surgeon estimated the surgery to cost about $100,000. She’s depending on insurance to take care of some of the costs. But she knows there will be a lot it doesn’t cover, including a lot of surgical costs, supplies and her travel costs to Atlanta for the surgery and recovery.
If the surgery is successful without complications, Busby said, she hopes Addysen will recover and be able to return to a relatively normal life. She’ll likely by limited on physical activities and might require more surgery as she grows.
“For right now, that is our only hope, getting her back to the child she was back before October,” Busby said.
Jones said that the water was cold but that the cause was worth the chill.
“It was probably a little worse that what I expected,” he said after emerging from the chilly pool. “It’s like a bunch of needles hitting you at one time it’s so cold. ... It’s for a good cause, so it’s worth it.”
Jones challenged all law enforcement officers to donate, but hopes Columbia County Sheriff Clay Whittle, Richmond County Sheriff Richard Roundtree, Grovetown Department of Public Safety Chief Gary Owens, Columbia County Board of Education Public Safety Chief Lance Poss and Richmond County schools Public Safety Chief Alfonso Williams will take the plunge for Addysen.
“I hope they’ll respond in a positive way,” Jones said, “not thinking about the cold water, but to help this sweet child out.”
Anyone wanting to help Addysen should make checks out to Euchee Creek Elementary School and mail them to: 795 Louisville Rd, Grovetown, GA 30813.
Follow Addysen’s progress on the Addy’s Army Facebook page.