Clipped From The Akron Beacon Journal
She wrote the Postal Service. The pupils at the Haddonfield Middle School wrote, too. So did the pupils at Copley-Fairlawn Copley-Fairlawn Copley-Fairlawn Middle School. In all, some 1,000 letters have to delivered to the Postal Service, including several from politicians such as Kean and from officials at Goodyear, where Eric's father, Gary Conner, works. The design went on display this past weekend in Washington, D.C., at the meeting of the Citizens Citizens Stamp Advistory Committee. Committee. Ralph Stewart, a spokesman for the Postal Service, said the design is one of about 1,500 that will be considered. He said 25 to 30 new stamps will be issued this year. (If you want to write in your support for the stamp, address letters to Citizens Stamp Advisory Advisory Committee, U.S. Postal Service, Service, Washington, D.C. 20260.) Whatever the committee's decision, decision, the real story here is the indelible mark that such a young boy as Eric Conner left on so many people children and adults. His parents and his sister, 16-year-old 16-year-old 16-year-old 16-year-old 16-year-old Lorrie, visited Haddonfield Haddonfield last month. "The kids there made you feel as if they knew him all his life," said Marilyn Conner, his mother. "We always thought he was a special boy, but he was our son. What they've done, what the kids here in Copley have done it makes you feel that other people thought he was special, too." Why was he so special? He was a good student, but not exceptional. He was a fine athlete, athlete, a fierce competitor, but he was limited by his slight build. "He loved life," Ms. Holland said. "He loved people. He was always optimistic. He never said it couldn't be. He was an instigator. instigator. He was the kind of a kid who got things started," He was the kind of boy who started water fights at the Cleveland Cleveland Clinic. He was the kind of boy who delivered valentines to all the other children plus the doctors and nurses in the clinic's pediatric ward. He was the kind of boy who could present a science report on his own illness, explaining to his peers what was happening to him. He was the kind of boy who could make his parents laugh when their hearts were breaking. He was the kind of boy who, only a few hours before he would slip into the coma that preceded his death, called his father and asked him to bring some gifts to o4doDtion 9an Endangered Species Stamp makes a plea cheer up the other kids in the ward. "I think it's things like that that made me most proud of him," Conner said. The Conners learned of Eric's illness in April 1983, when he was in the sixth grade. Aplastic anemia robs the bone marrow of its ability to produce red corpuscles, white corpuscles or platelets. Without platelets, the body is susceptible to bruises and bleeding. bleeding. A blow to the head could be fatal. Nevertheless, that summer Eric continued to play baseball. "He wasn't in the more serious stage of the disease at that point," said Dr. Carl J. Krill Jr., a pediatric hematologist who treated Eric in Akron. Midway through the season, though, Krill ordered Eric to stop playing. "His team lost a couple of games in a row without him," Gary Conner said. "He really wanted to play." So one night Eric called Krill at home. He cut a deal with the doctor he would play only three innings a game and he wouldn't slide. Because there was almost no hope for Eric's recovery, his parents parents relented, although Mrs. Conner Conner couldn't bring herself to watch a game. "We decided that if he died playing baseball, he would die happy," Conner said. Eric was selected to his league's all-star all-star all-star team. He led the all-stars all-stars all-stars to a victory m their first game, hitting two doubles and a triple and driving in three runs. On the triple, he slid into third base. Actually, it wasn't much of a slide. "He bowled over the other other team's third baseman," Conner Conner recalled. "The only way he knew how to play was all-out." all-out." all-out." As Eric entered the seventh 1 Fi rv Rl El ft 1 ?i II grade, his ability to compete in athletics diminished as the disease disease grew dominant. "With aplastic anemia," Krill said, "if you're not going to do well . . . rarely are there any periods of remission." Somehow, Eric found a way to stay involved in athletics. He re-fereed. re-fereed. re-fereed. He learned to excell at non-contact non-contact non-contact sports such as table tennis. He instructed other children. children. In June, the middle school will present the first Eric Conner Memorial Memorial Award. It will be given to the boy and girl physical education education pupils who best demonstrate "the spirit, enthusiasm and winning winning attitude that Eric exuded each and every day," physical education teacher Neil Dekker said. That winning attitude extended into the classroom. He attended his seventh-grade seventh-grade seventh-grade classes as often as he could during the 1983-84 1983-84 1983-84 school year. "When he would come into English, he would always say, 'Are we going to have fun today or are we going to have English?' English?' " recalled Patty Picard, Eric's seventh-grade seventh-grade seventh-grade English teacher. Ms. Picard, who now teaches in the Hudson system, often took pupils pupils to visit Eric when he was at the clinic. Her class sent him a T-shirt T-shirt T-shirt that read "Mr. Fun" on the front and "Eric" on the back. Barb Middleton, a guidance counselor at Copley-Fairlawn Copley-Fairlawn Copley-Fairlawn Middle School, said Eric's attitude attitude was so upbeat during his seventh-grade seventh-grade seventh-grade year it was difficult difficult for the other pupils to comprehend comprehend the extent of his illness. "I think they knew he was sick, but it didn't really sink in," she said. "Then when he died, and the reality set in, it really shocked them. Many of them came in here in tears. Some cried for days." If Eric Conner ever shed any tears, nobody saw them. Even at home, he maintained his cheerful countenance until the end. . "He never gave up," Mrs. Conner Conner said. "He would keep us going. "You can't imagine what it's like to watch your child dying. And on top of that pain, you have bill collectors who want their money now. It was a very difficult difficult time for all of us, but Eric always found a way to make us smile. He never felt sorry for himself. He never asked, 'Why me?' He just accepted it." The Conners are collaborating with Ms. Holland on a book about their experiences. It will be titled There's a Better Place. "If the book helps just one other family to cope with what we had to cope with, it will be worth the effort," Gary Conner said. The book will be full of anecdotes anecdotes about Eric's final days. Perhaps two of those moments will give you an idea of the kind of kid Eric Conner was. On Sept. 7, a Friday night, Eric attended a Copley football game with his family. He hardly watched the game. He spent most of the time shaking shaking hands, chatting with teachers and other pupils. He looked like a little politician making his way through a crowd of constituents. "Everybody commented commented how healthy he looked, how happy he seemed," Mrs. Conner said. The next morning, Eric told his parents to take him to the hospital. hospital. He would never return home. "It was as if he knew, as if he wanted to say goodbye to everybody," everybody," Mrs. Conner said. The next few days were filled with intense pain. "The doctors there told me that he apologized to them for complaining," Krill said. On Friday, Sept. 14, just a few hours after he distributed the gifts his father brought for the other kids in the ward, Eric went into a coma. On Sept. 16, at 1:30 a.m., he died of a massive cerebral cerebral hemhorrage. But don't remember Eric Conner Conner in death. Remember him by this: When he was about 3 years old, his mother teasingly would call him Eric the Airsick Eagle, a takeoff on a character from Captain Captain Kangaroo. "I would sing a song, Eric, the Airsick Eagle," Mrs. Conner said. "He didn't like me to ring it. He would say, 'Mama, eagles don't get airsick. They're terrific birds. They're free. Nothing can harm them.' " She had forgotten about the song until one day a couple of weeks before Eric's death. By then, his body had been enlarged by massive doses of steroids the doctors used to treat his illness. "He had the bulk of a man," Mrs. Conner said, "but he walked over ; to me, put his arms around my neck and sat in my lap." Then Eric said to his mother, "Mama, sing Eric, the Airsick Eagle to me." Somehow you have to think ; that Eric the Eagle has found his ; better place, a place where he : can fly free and nothing can ' harm him.