As doctors at Johns Hopkins prepared to take ice packing off 8-year-old Ashton Dean's face Wednesday morning, nearly 150 friends, family and even strangers gathered Tuesday night in Rockfield Park to pray the bleeding had stopped.
But it wasn't good news Wednesday for Ashton and his family, who live in Bel Air, and they are asking via Facebook that everyone who was at Tuesday's vigil, as well as everyone else, to keep up their prayers and support. He's scheduled to undergo a surgery Friday morning to alleviate some of the pressure on his nasal cavity that is causing severe bleeding.
"We have needed your prayers and encouraging words. We need them now, tonight and tomorrow more than ever. This has to work," one of his parents wrote on Ashton's page, called "Ashton's Angels: The A Team," where the family is regularly providing updates on Ashton's condition.
Since they were discovered when he was 6 months old, and he had a stroke, Ashton has lived with AVMs, arteriovenous malformations – four in his brain and one in his face, his grandfather, Joel Jordan, said before Tuesday's vigil. AVMs are abnormal connections between arteries and veins, according to http://www.mayoclinic.com
The stroke he had had 6 months old left Ashton brain-damaged, "but he's been a real trooper," Jordan said.
He talks, though he's hard to understand, and he walks, but he's very shaky. "As he gets older, it seems harder," his grandfather said.
To their credit, Jordan said, Ashton's parents, Rich and Betsy Dean, kept him in Harford County Public Schools, and his mom, Betsy, left her job with the school system to care of Ashton full-time.
Any one of the AVMs could rupture at any time, Jordan said.
"We don't know how long we have him, but every minute has been a gift," he said. "His work here is not done."
What makes Ashton special, Jordan said, is that's he's so gifted religiously.
"He embraces the Bible and the Lord wholeheartedly," he said.
His grandfather has seen Ashton's faith in action.
"Kids can be cruel. Mainstreamed in school, I've seen him hurt a few times. Kids stare at him because he looks so different, because he is so different," Jordan said. "It's amazing how his faith gets him through."
Ashton and his family attend Delta (Pa.) Church of the Nazarene, led by Rev. Robert Reter, who said he is reminded time and time again that "Ashton is a miracle boy."
"He is so full of love," Reter said. "He's gone through all this for the last eight years and he's the first one to start singing...he's the one who leads us in worship...who leads us closer to God."
Reter said he's been in the ministry for 35 years and Ashton is the "most remarkable boy I've ever met."
Friends with a Raven
Even Ray Rice has become a champion for, and a friend to, Ashton, who met the Baltimore Raven running back at an autograph signing session.
Ashton asked Rice if he would do something for Ashton and when Rice asked what, Ashton replied, "pray for me."