Students at Port St. Joe Elementary School pose in “Team Baylee” T-shirts. [ PSJES ]
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Community rallies behind 9 year-old after leukemia diagnosis

Baylee Rish misses her friends at school.

Her parents say that for the nine year-old, who is known for being a social butterfly, being away from her classmates has been one of the most difficult parts of her battle against leukemia. 

So when dozens of them posed in matching “Team Baylee” T-shirts in a Facebook post made by Port St. Joe Elementary School, the photos brought quite a smile to the third grader’s face.

“She loves school. She’s a very good student,” said Blake Rish, Baylee’s father. “That’s another thing that’s hard is her not getting to go to school and see her friends. She was doing cheer and taking art classes, and those are the types of things that right now we’re not able to do just because her immune system is so repressed.”

Baylee was first tested for cancer after having been continuously ill for more than a month late last year. 

“She got pneumonia and had pneumonia for a month,” her father said. “They kept giving her different antibiotics, and they weren’t working, and she finally got over that.”

“The following week she got the flu, and then as soon as she got over that, she had strep throat the following week. We knew something was not right. You just don’t get sick back to back like that.”

In December, Baylee was diagnosed with B Cell ALL Leukemia, a cancer that forms in the bone marrow and affects the production of B Cells, which are central to the immune system.

While Baylee is out of the classroom and away from her friends, Blake Rish said he has seen the Port St. Joe community continuously rally behind her.

Baylee’s teacher at Port St. Joe Elementary School accepted the position to be her at-home instructor while she recovers on top of her other teaching duties, he said, and the family has received encouragement from so many they’ve run into.

But nowhere is the community’s support more obvious than in the “Team Baylee” T-Shirt fundraiser organized by Blake Rish’s cousin Bridget Birmingham.

According to Birmingham, almost 500 shirts have now been sold, all sporting a bright orange unicorn design sketched out by Baylee herself.

“Baylee and myself and her mother and her brother all kind of doodled out some designs, and then we turned it over to the professionals who could make it into what it is,” said Blake Rish. “And the folks at Ramsey’s went above and beyond helping us with that.”

Along with the photos posted by the elementary school of Baylee’s classmates wearing her design, members of the community have been sharing their own shots sporting the shirts, which has stirred up a good deal of interest in the local community.

Birmingham said that she is getting ready to place a second order for T-shirts to help meet the demand.

“The fundraiser has helped bring in several thousand dollars to help with Baylee’s medical expenses,” she said.

“But even without the money,” she continued, “the T-shirts have been so great because (Baylee) gets to see all of the people wearing them and all of the people who are in her corner.”

Those looking to contribute to Baylee’s fundraiser for her ongoing cancer care can make a donation directly to a benefit account set up in her name at Centennial Bank.