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Community gives 4-year-old a birthday to remember

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By Ron Benningfield

 When Amy Garrett began to plan her son’s fourth birthday, she looked beyond the usual cake, balloons, and ice cream.

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“I kept in mind that he is not your typical child, so knowing that he loves mail, I thought why not give him a card shower?” she reasoned.

To say her son is different only begins to tell his story. J.J., born 11 weeks early, spent his first eight months in the hospital alternating between U of L’s and Kosair Children’s hospitals’ neonatal intensive care units.

When he came home, having undergone a tracheostomy, he was on a ventilator and oxygen, all due to severe chronic lung disease. 

He has had 17 surgeries, but is doing well, according to his mother Amy.

“His lungs have matured enough so that he no longer needs those things,” she said, “but he still has some special needs including developmental delays and he does not eat by mouth, so he is primarily g-tube (gastric tube) fed.”

“In spite of all the problems he has had, he is a kind-hearted kid who doesn’t meet a stranger and brightens up our day,” said Jarriell Garrett Sr.

J.J. has shown a love for the beauty and individuality of greeting cards.

“He loves the colors, the different sizes, especially of homemade cards and the musical cards,” his mother said.

His father recalled, “I remember one time the Dollar Store in Magnolia brought in a gift bag filled with lots of goodies and the first thing J.J. wanted to know is if they had a card in it.”

Knowing his fondness for cards, his mother created the event on Facebook and shared with her friends and family, asking only for everyone to drop a card or birthday message in the mail or have their children draw a picture and send it to J.J.

“It was not long before the event had been shared over 3,000 times,” she said. “I asked JJ how many cards he wanted to receive and he responded, ‘One hundred!’”

One week before his Oct. 27 birthday, his first cards arrived in the mail. The first day totaled two cards; the second day, 22.

“The next three days the mailman had to pull in our driveway to deliver J.J.’s mail,” his mother said.

By his birthday, he had received more than 1,000 cards. 

“We left to go somewhere and came back and there were cards dropped off at our door,” Amy said. “We got up one morning and cards were left on top of our vehicle.”

Each LaRue County school showed overwhelming support, she said, as the youngster received mail from preschool students through seniors. 

One special message from a LaRue County student read, “Hi, J.J., You are such an inspiration to all of us; you are only four years old and you may not realize it, but you have brought so many people together through this event.”

Magnolia Fire Department, hearing about J.J.’s story, brought three fire trucks to the Garretts’ home.

“J.J. made himself really comfortable in the big truck as he picked up a hand-held radio, shut the door, and waved bye,” Amy said.

As of last week, the young man who dressed up as a firefighter for Halloween had received more than 1,300 cards including some from as far away as California and Washington state, and from other countries including Germany, the United Kingdom and Australia.

“It’s amazing to realize how many good people there are in this world,” said Jarriell Sr.

On Dec. 19, LeGrande Elementary School in Horse Cave is inviting J.J. and his parents to meet with the 250 students there.

“One of our students told us about J.J. and how the only thing his parents wanted for his birthday was for people to send him cards, so when I brought the idea up at a meeting, the staff and students all jumped right in,” said Jerri Harper, principal.

“Our students made hundreds of cards – we had several manila envelopes full of them which we mailed to J.J.,” Harper said. “When his mother called to thank us, we invited them down to meet with us.”

“We are so touched by the support of our community,” Amy said. “This day and time, cards are not sent as often due to the use of email and social media networking, so to J.J. and us it is a big deal that people care enough, most that have never even met J.J. nor us, to take time to mail a card.”