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."
"From then on they've been buddies," Jordan said. Rice invited Ashton to his camp in New York and has become a champion for him.
"In today's sports figures, they go broke after earning millions, [Ray Rice] has given a lot of time and money into helping people," Jordan said. "It's amazing what he's done and he's a great role model for other sports guys."
On his Facebook page, Rice regularly posts Ashton's updates and asks his fans to pray for the family, and will forward to the family any e-mails sent to email@example.com.
Donations for Ashton and his family also can be made through Rice's foundation, https://npo.justgive.org/nonprofits/donate.jsp?ein=27-4265687. For anyone wishing to donate, make sure it's specified the donation is for Ashton.
He suffered from a severe nosebleed last week that doctors suspect was caused by an AVM in his sinus cavity, Jordan said. He was taken to a local hospital and stabilized before he was flown to Johns Hopkins Hospital.
His face had been packed in ice since then, Jordan said, and Wednesday morning the bandages were coming off.
"We're praying he does not bleed, we're praying for a miracle," Jaime Kaliakoudas, one of the organizers, said before the vigil started.
When doctors operated Wednesday, they found the bleeding had not stopped and Ashton needed another transfusion, according to a Facebook Wednesday.
In Thursday's update, the family wrote that Ashton will have to have an angiogram to "attempt to coil the large vein around the right eye to help reduce some of the pressure and hopefully in turn stop the bleeding."
It's complicated and risky, but doctors said they wouldn't do it if there weren't a chance of it helping, according to the update. They are trying to have the surgery Friday and are praying "this be the answer to our many prayers."
Jordan said the procedure Friday could take anywhere between four and 10 hours, but hopefully is the "telling procedure."
Prayers for an 8-year-old
Hundreds of others are praying for Ashton and his family, too, if the number of "likes" – nearly 3,700 – of his Facebook page is any indication.
The 150 or so who gathered at Rockfield Park raised their voices in prayer Tuesday evening.
Some of the people gathered at Tuesday night's vigil were friends and family of Ashton's. Others, like 11-year-old Aliza, have never met him.
"My dad is friends with Ashton's dad, but I've never met him," Aliza said. "I feel very happy that everyone is here, praying for him. When I go home I'm going to say a prayer as well."
Holding lighted candles as darkness descended and led by Reter, the group sang for Ashton and prayed in silence for a few moments.
Among the songs they sang were Ashton's favorites, "In the Sweet By and By," "How Great Thou Art," "We Fall Down" and "Thank You, Lord, for the Blessings on Me." From his hospital room, fittingly Room 27, the number of Ray Rice, Ashton sang over the phone to those gathered for him, too. And his little brother, Jonah, 3, sang to his older brother.
"We want God to stop that bleeding," Reter said. "We're praying it's healed when doctors unpack Ashton's nose."
"We are making an appeal as one, bringing our hearts together, our voices together," he said. "We're crying out to you in our faith, we're praying for you to heal Ashton."
"We love him so much and we want to see him healed, out of the hospital and back home with his family," Reter said.
"We pray for yet another miracle to happen in this little boy's life. In the name of Jesus we call for mercy, for the power of healing," he said.
Ashton's grandmother, Gail Jordan, whom Ashton named GG, said the family gets through its days mostly from prayers. She thanked everyone for coming and asked for continued prayers for her first grandson, who changed her life, she said.
"Some days I question why me? Why did I get a grandchild so precious?" she said.
Valerie walker, of Bel Air, who lives near the Jordans, asked everyone to just "pray, pray, pray."
"In this world of darkness, we pray God uses Ashton as a guide for all of us," Walker said. "He was put with the family he was for a reason. God bless you guys."