Peers show support for Hamilton 7-year-old battling rare brain disease

Rydder Ames visits Brookwood Elementary ahead of birthday.

Rydder Ames, a second-grader at Brookwood Elementary battling an aggressive and rare brain tumor, made a special visit to the school Tuesday morning to receive hundreds of handmade birthday cards from his peers ahead of his eighth birthday next week.

Rydder’s parents, Krista Stevens and Brian Ames, accompanied him at the school along with a slew of other family members. This was one of only a handful of occasions Rydder has been able to make it to the school since he entered second grade this school year.

Over the previous week, Brookwood students prepared cards with messages of inspiration, hope and gratitude in an attempt to show Rydder how large his support system is as he continues his fight against DMG. In conjunction, his family opened a P.O. Box (13401 Hamilton, OH 45013) with the hope that Rydder might receive a card from all 50 states before his birthday on Jan. 30.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

“You’ve got lots of love here in these cards from everyone here at Brookwood,” Principal Aileen Ernst said to Rydder as she presented the basket of cards. Some classmates read their notes aloud.

“We missed you. We love you. We are hoping to see you. We’re here for you. You’re a winner.”

“I am sorry that you are going through this stuff. And, you are my best friend, we all love you. Hope you feel better, hope you have a good day.”

“We miss you so much. We also like when you come visit us. And don’t forget to be strong for us.”

“We have been hoping that you feel better. You are strong; I know that because of how much you’ve been fighting through all of this. You are like a superhero. I am cheering you on. You will always be my friend, no matter what you look like.”

ExploreHamilton 7-year-old battling rare brain disease

Rydder’s brain tumor and its subsequent treatment has dramatically changed his appearance over the past nine months — steroids to help alleviate painful symptoms and side effects have caused him to gain over 40 pounds. His mobility and ability to communicate have changed just as starkly.

After listening to his peers, Rydder took a group photo with his classmates, who then lined up to each give him a high-five before the group settled down to listen to a story read aloud by teacher Ms. Van Der Veer.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

The Hamilton 7-year-old’s tumor had gone unnoticed until symptoms suddenly emerged in early April 2021 when he came home from school with a headache and lost control of his motor function in his left hand later that evening, causing him to repeatedly drop his ice cream cone.

He was eventually diagnosed with Diffuse Midline Glioma (DMG), a rare mutation most common among children that causes unfettered reproduction of should-be protective cells in the brain which then compresses, damages and shuts down other areas of the brain.

“This kid, he’s been through more now than any person I’ve ever met,” said Rydder’s dad, Brian. “He’s gone through chemo, he’s gone through radiation, he’s had hundreds of pills put down his throat, he’s had so many different things go on, [including] MRIs, [and] he’s tackled every single one of them pretty much by himself until he couldn’t do it anymore.”

Brian said Rydder is still up for the fight, “but you can just see a lot of energy has been taken from him.”

As a result, it’s been harder to get out of the house recently. A family-run Facebook page announced that Rydder was hospitalized in late December, and a subsequent MRI showed that his tumor was actively bleeding and showed concerning growth. Rydder’s family said he will undergo a second round of radiation to hopefully stall further growth and alleviate symptoms.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Brian said he hopes efforts like these that bring attention to his son’s story both helps Rydder feel support while also raising awareness for DMG in general, in a hope that the next family to endure a DMG diagnosis will have some sort of reference point.

“I don’t want to say we’re closer to the end, but, any time, you never know. At this stage, you never know,” Brian said. “[That] adds fuel to me because I don’t want the next family to be left in the unknown. I want them to have some sort of [reference, like], ‘Okay, this is what this family went through; this is what’s going to happen, this is how we can handle this.’ That’s what I want to go to now.”

Brian said that support and awareness is “huge” for his family. Brian said the staff at Brookwood Elementary has felt like a second family for both Rydder and his older brother Walker, who also attends the elementary.

“Everybody coming together for us, as nobodies, it still shows there are good people around,” Brian said.

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