JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – Tyler Lillard is 9 years old and all boy. He loves sports, especially wrestling and football, and more than anything he wants to get back to living a normal life.
In 2012, he began to experience epileptic seizures that have increasingly gotten worse. His mother Tina Lillard didn’t even know what a seizure was. She thought his first seizure was simple dehydration.
“I took him to the doctor, and he had a seizure there in his office. That is when I found out what was wrong,” Lillard said.
But what they did not know was the cause, despite an EEG. Six months later, Lillard got Tyler’s diagnosis – a benign brain tumor was encroaching on the nerve centers in his head. They referred Tyler to Johns Hopkins Hospital, the Mayo Clinic and Cedars of Sinai Hospital for treatment.
Finally, the Mayo Clinic agreed to perform the $250,000 surgery, but it required 20 percent up front – $50,000. To complicate matters, Lillard’s health insurance would not cover it because the surgery was considered “experimental.”
Lillard did not tell anybody but Tyler’s teacher at Wilson Creek Elementary School. She didn’t want his friends or their parents to treat Tyler as anything but normal. But finally she did tell some friends, and that became the nucleus of Team Tyler.
These moms began to raise the money for Tyler’s operation. It culminated last week at Sugar Mill subdivision’s pool and clubhouse where they had a huge fundraiser for Tyler. Hundreds of friends and supporters showed up for an afternoon of swimming, eating and games. Atlanta Falcon Jason Snelling also made an appearance to show his support for Tyler.
Perhaps the most popular attraction was the dunk tank with Wilson Creek teachers doing the honors.
Stacey Ricks, one of the movers on Team Tyler, said the group made up mostly of moms – but there are lots of Team Tyler supporters – had been working in overdrive to get the word out. Local TV channels 11 and 5 were covering it all last week.
At school, his classmates have been chipping in, including the chess club he belongs to, his wrestling team and his Lego Club buddies. There has been an outpouring in the Johns Creek community to help Tyler.
Tyler and his mom are new to the community, so the network that sprang up has just amazed her.
“There is such a sense of community here. I didn’t want bring it up to anyone until one day at the PTA,” said Lillard. “Then I saw what all of Tyler’s friends were doing. It is hard to express how grateful I am.”
She said every day is hard for Tyler. In addition to his recent problems, he is also diagnosed with ADHD.
“Every day is hard for Tyler,” she said.
Lots of moms at the Sugar Mill fundraiser had shirts with “Tyler’s Team” emblazoned on them.
“This is something we wanted to do for Tyler and Tina,” said Ricks. “We all work together at school, and we band together when there is a need.”
With the money already collected and the money put up by the Lillard family, Tyler is to have his surgery this week. Yet more expenses remain after surgery, not to mention the balance of the surgical costs. So fundraising efforts are ongoing.