- Associated Press - Friday, January 30, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - A week ago, Carlos Zent was a typical 6-year-old living in Kokomo, attending school at Bon Air Elementary School and playing Minecraft and Power Rangers in his free time. Then a trip to the emergency room turned his and his family’s world upside down.

Carlos has spent the past four days at the Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis awaiting test results to determine the type of leukemia he has. He doesn’t know yet he has cancer; his mother and aunts hadn’t found the words to break the news to him as of Tuesday.

“We didn’t tell him yet because we don’t know how to,” Katina Crowe, Carlos’ aunt, told the Kokomo Tribune (https://bit.ly/1CCVYkK ). “He understands the doctors need to figure out what’s going on.”

Doctors think the cancer has been developing for the past couple of years, Crowe said, as he has two masses in his stomach, one mass covering 75 percent of his right lung and another mass growing up to his neck, around his heart and throat.

But anyone who knows Carlos wouldn’t have guessed anything was wrong, Crowe said.

“We never knew he was sick. He’s so bubbly,” she said. “He just keeps telling us he’s going to be OK.”

Kristina Middleton, Carlos’ kindergarten teacher at Bon Air, agreed that she never would have guessed Carlos was sick based on his positive attitude at school.

“He’s your ideal student,” she said. “He comes in every day with a smile on his face, and he cares about his friends.”

Middleton and Carlos’ kindergarten classmates are already finding ways to keep in contact with him and show their support. Middleton set up a Skype account, and the class is planning to hold a video call with Carlos later this week; the music teacher taught them a song to sing as a surprise for Carlos.

Tuesday was the 100th day of school, and Middleton sent Carlos photos of the class celebration on Facebook. Tears filled her eyes as she recalled getting the news on Monday about Carlos’ diagnosis.

“That was very difficult,” Middleton said. “It’s always hard when you hear (about a cancer diagnosis) for an adult, but for a child this age especially.”

She explained to the rest of her students on Tuesday why Carlos isn’t in class.

“I explained to them that he’s sick and it wasn’t the kind of sickness where you just stay home for a couple of days, so he had to go to the hospital,” Middleton said.

Bon Air students and staff will wear orange - the color for leukemia awareness - on Friday in honor of Carlos, they can wear a hat for $1 and they soon will be selling orange wristbands for $1, with all proceeds going to Carlos’ family. Indiana University Kokomo staff and student teachers who work at Bon Air also are planning a way to incorporate a fundraiser for Carlos into the school’s family night in March.

“Everybody’s really rallied around this family,” Middleton said.

On Saturday, Carlos’ family noticed a lump on the side of his neck and took him to the ER at St. Joseph Hospital. Just after midnight on Sunday, doctors diagnosed it as leukemia, though the good news is they think it’s treatable, according to a GoFundMe page set up for Carlos and his family.

Since that diagnosis, Carlos and his mother, Brittney Smith, have been staying at the Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital. Crowe, who lives in Indianapolis, has been hosting Smith’s mother at her house so she can be near Carlos. Crowe also is the only one in the family with a car, so she’s been driving back and forth to Kokomo every few days so Smith can see her 5-year-old daughter, Jayda, who lives with another one of her aunts.

Smith has Medicaid, which does not cover the expense of her meals while she stays at the hospital, and the family is not sure how much of Carlos’ treatments will be paid for by the insurance. A “Carlos Strong” GoFundMe page, https://www.gofundme.com/carlosstrong, has been set up to help raise money for the family’s expenses.

Crowe said the online display of support, even from strangers, has been overwhelming already. Carlos’ family members also have asked that people send jokes, stories and other messages for Carlos through the “CarlosStrong” Facebook page to keep him entertained while he’s in the hospital.

___

Information from: Kokomo Tribune, https://www.ktonline.com

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