Six-year-old Brantley Dobbs of Hiram loves superheroes, he loves his sister Lucy and he loves Christmas.
About a year and a half ago, Brantley was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor called Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG). Doctors thought Christmas 2016 might be his last.
Now that he’s come this close to Christmas 2017, his parents, Jamie and Brandon Dobbs, have decided not to wait.
With the help of hundreds of strangers from around the world, Brantley is celebrating Christmas in November — and on a grand scale.
Packages arrive every day from friends across Georgia and internationally, full of candy and toys and ornaments to go on the six trees inside the Dobbs house in Hiram and one outdoors.
Big events are planned. A church choir is coming to serenade Brantley with his favorite carols on Saturday. Folks at Georgia-Pacific are delivering a tree for the front yard. Last week, what looked like the whole Paulding County Sheriff’s Department arrived in a 15-car motorcade with sirens blazing, to bring more goodies.
“The neighbors came out to see what was going on; some were a little worried,” said Jamie, “but as far as Brantley is concerned, it was great.”
Though Brantley has beat the predictions so far, the road ahead is rough. It’s difficult for him to walk, speak or swallow. His body is swollen from steroid treatments and medications.
But the outpouring of affection — and the tsunami of packages — keep Brantley smiling.
“Atlanta is showing love like you would not believe — it is overwhelming,” said Dabney Hollis, of Visiting Nurse Health System/Hospice Atlanta. “It brings tears to your eyes.”
Though Brantley is taking experimental treatment, he is under hospice care. It means that the doctors have few treatment options left. “DIPG is an inoperable brain tumor with a 0% chance survival rate,” Jamie wrote on the Facebook page Prayers for our Hero Brantley.
While lying in bed one day, thinking about her son, Jamie decided that instead of waiting for Christmas, they would start right after Halloween. She also thought Brantley would enjoy getting ornaments from friends around the region.
“I never thought it would go to other countries,” she said. “I told a friend, she made a post in Facebook, and it blew up in an hour.”
More than 2,000 ornaments have come in the mail, with more arriving every day from Vietnam, France, Italy, Rwanda, England, Mexico, United Arab Emirates and other far-flung locales.
“He loves it,” said Jamie. Though the tumor makes him sleepy and aphasic, “he is still alert, smiley and giggly,” she said.
At that moment, Jamie was interrupted by a laugh from Lucy, 5, who had discovered a farting reindeer ornament.
Among the groups adopting the family are the Delta Medallions, a club that includes frequent flyer customers and Delta employees. They’ve carried Brantley’s cause to Delta destinations around the world, prompting gifts from Europe, Africa and Asia.
“They are a family with a heart of gold,” said Delta Medallions member Shawn Morgan.
Jamie and Brandon Dobbs know that they will receive too many ornaments to fit in one house, and are donating the extras to other families who are part of the pediatric hospice program.
The family is also considering continuing the momentum after Brantley is gone, and starting a foundation for other children going through the hospice experience,
In the meantime, this year’s display is epic, with the house lit up like a Las Vegas casino. “He loves driving home at night and seeing the lights. You can see it from a mile away,” said Jamie. “It’s nice to put a smile on Brantley’s face.”
Brandon Dobbs works putting in pumps for septic systems. Until Brantley’s diagnosis, Jamie worked at a party rental store, but left that job to take care of her son.
Their daughter Lucy is coping the best way she knows how. Their hospice nurse, Lanise Shortell, said “kids that age will ask questions that will bring you to your knees and then run off and play.”
The experience, said Shortell, “is full of joy, amidst sadness. We know what we’re walking to, but the joy along the way is surrounding the family with light, love, support and beauty from all the corners.”
Jamie said the lessons they’ve learned through this experience have been painful but valuable.
“We’ve learned so much about life,” she wrote online, “and even more, about how to love, through Brantley!”