Little Elisha Roberts’ sparkling eyes and cheery smile belie suffering the toddler has endured.
Months of medical testing, daily episodes of severe vomiting, hours of travel to consult specialists at hospitals in several states, and an endless schedule of appointments with doctors, nutritionists, and physical therapists consume a great deal of the time, energy and financial resources of the Roberts family.
Elisha, now 13 months old, was diagnosed this past spring with an inoperable intrinsic brain tumor, and his parents and his extended family have rallied around him with love and support, determined to do whatever it takes to make him well.
Elisha’s parents, Josh and Jennifer Roberts, grew up in Waymart and are graduates of Western Wayne High School.
Josh is the son of Craig and Barbara Roberts, and has a sister, Kim Diaz. He studied at East Stroudsburg University, and is currently the children’s pastor at the Kingsport First Assembly of God Church in Kingsport, Tennessee.
Jennifer is the daughter of Dennis and Marian Morris, and has a brother, Kenneth. She attended Milligan College and is the nursery director at the church.
On Sept. 18, 2012, the young couple welcomed twins, Elisha Joshua and his sister, Emma Rose.
Pastor Josh Roberts has set up a Facebook page called “The Miracle of Elisha” to keep friends, family, and well-wishers across the country informed of his son’s condition.
On that Facebook page is a video from May 2012 capturing the moment when Josh and the pastor of his church, Pastor Phillip McElhenny, break the news to their congregation regarding Elisha’s health.
In the video, Josh explains that Elisha had suffered from projectile vomiting since he was just seven weeks old, and that he and Jennifer had taken Elisha to Knoxville Children’s Hospital because he was severely dehydrated.
Doctors had been telling the couple that they could find nothing wrong with Elisha, and that “some babies just cry,” so the Roberts family expected to return home within a few hours with a rehydrated and essentially well child.
Instead, they received devastating news.
Doctors at Knoxville Children’s Hospital decided to do an MRI of Elisha, and they discovered that the baby had a tumor in his brain stem. The brain stem controls basic biological functions, including breathing, heartbeat, and blood pressure. It also coordinates motor control signals sent from the brain to the rest of the body.
Page 2 of 3 - Elisha’s tumor is classified as a low-grade stage 1 cancerous glioma. It is located directly in the part of the brain stem that controls his ability to swallow, and it is the tumor that causes him to vomit ten or more times a day, and to be unable to eat enough food to maintain proper nutrition.
Josh immediately began researching his son’s condition in order to learn about treatment options and to try to find the best hospital for helping children with cancer.
He learned that there were three possible treatments for cancer: surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.
Because Elisha’s tumor is within his brain stem, surgery is not possible without causing irreversible harm.
Radiation likewise is not an option until Elisha is at least seven or eight years old because it carries a high risk of neurological impairment.
Chemotherapy will likely be used to treat Elisha’s tumor, but right now the doctors have adopted a wait and see attitude of monitoring the tumor for growth and waiting until he is old enough for radiation treatment, according to Barbara Roberts, Elisha’s paternal grandmother.
The best hospital in the country for Elisha, Josh discovered, is St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. Elisha spent several weeks there during the summer, and his parents must travel there with him every two months for monitoring. Although treatment at St. Jude’s is free, the Roberts’ expenses are mounting.
Cindy Opalka, a relative of the family, explained, “They have deductibles and co-pays from all the doctors and therapists, transportation for Josh and Jennifer and the children to get to St. Jude’s and all of Eli’s appointments, transportation costs for Eli’s grandparents who have been taking turns flying or driving down to watch Emma, plus the costs of keeping the house going.”
The family also discovered that some necessary medical devices, like the small silver patches that prevent Elisha from developing an infection at the site of his feeding tube, are not covered by their insurance.
Barbara Roberts said, “They’ve had tremendous support from their church in Tennessee, including money, food, baby-sitting, lawn mowing, and even dog-sitting. My pastor, Gary Gilpin from the Aldenville Baptist Church, drove to Memphis to pray with them. Both sets of grandparents have spent weeks at a time there to help. But they need so much. It can be overwhelming.”
Page 3 of 3 - Because she wanted to help Elisha’s family, Cindy Opalka decided to organize a spaghetti luncheon as a benefit.
Opalka approached Cliff Krajkovich, the manager of the Gravity Inn in Waymart, for ideas. Cliff manages the restaurant for the owner, his mother Phyllis Krajkovich. Cliff and Phyllis agreed to host the benefit at their establishment, and they decided on an autumn fundraising event.
The benefit will take place on Sunday, Nov. 3 from 11:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. at the Gravity Inn located at 40 Gravity Planes Road. Tickets cost $8 and can be purchased in advance by calling (570) 488-6918, or purchased at the door.
The meal will include spaghetti and meatballs with Cliff’s homemade sauce, salad, bread, beverages, and dessert. People can dine in or get the meals as carry out.
The Krajkoviches have volunteered to do the cooking, and members of the Roberts, Morris, and Opalka families will be baking the desserts.
A basket raffle will be held, with chances available for purchase during the luncheon.
Pastor Roberts and his family have not allowed their faith in God and their belief in the possibility of miracles to waver even in the face of overwhelming adversity.
They have adopted the phrase “I BELIEVE” as their motto, and there will be t-shirts and bracelets with the motto available for purchase during the luncheon.
Donations can also be mailed to Rev. Josh Roberts at P.O. Box 94, Waymart, PA 18472, and the family would like people to know that prayers for Elisha are always welcome.