The journey began with a little boy who had some headaches. And then received a dire diagnosis.
It grew into a nationwide outpouring of love, prayer and support for 8-year-old Ethen Richardson and his Mount Pleasant family, regular folks facing a horrifying prognosis.
Ethen died peacefully at home Wednesday around 2:45 p.m. wrapped in his devoted mother's arms, according to a family friend. Ethen was holding his father's hand, his big brother and loved ones gathered in the comfort of his parent's bedroom.
Last summer, Ethen was diagnosed with a diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, a highly aggressive and inoperable brainstem cancer. He was given about nine months to live.
However, his family of devout Christians didn't give up hope. Instead, they amassed a nationwide prayer army called Team Ethen. The third-grader's public Facebook page has blossomed to close to 15,000 followers.
"Ethen's life made a huge difference. We all wish he'd gotten that miracle, but his life had a purpose. It changed a lot of people," said nurse and family friend Joye Feinzig after leaving his bedside.
Along Ethen's journey through radiation, chemotherapy, his last Christmas and his New Year's Make-A-Wish trip to the Big Apple when he appeared on Fox News, he gained a national following.
Maybe it was those blue ocean eyes or the freckles or his sweet smile, minus a few front teeth. Maybe it was how he cried while vomiting after treatments, not for himself, but because it upset his mom. Maybe it was his family's strong Christian faith and their call for God's prayer army.
Or maybe it was how he reminded people of their own children because Ethen just wanted to feel good enough to play with his big brother, Eli, and go to his class at Pinckney Elementary.
Ethen's family became known for their devotion even more on Jan. 23 when he was taken by ambulance to the Medical University of South Carolina. He suffered seizure-like activity and could not walk or talk.
It appeared he would pass away then amid the tubes and buzz of the ICU.
Instead, he awoke and returned home with his family. He never regained his mobility but was able to communicate largely through blinks for things like his favorite bacon and for his mother's singing.
His mother Brandy never left his side - and never gave up hope that God would provide her child a miracle. His father Todd's Facebook post Wednesday letting people know about Ethen's death read:
Ethen is completely healed and there is no more sickness.
God called his little angel back home today.
Funeral arrangements have not been made. Friends warn not to expect a somber memorial.
"They want a celebration of his life," Feinzig said.
Reach Jennifer Hawes at 937-5563 or follow her on Twitter at @JenBerryHawes.
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