Under a dreary overcast sky Sunday morning, a Kendall Park family celebrated a ray of hope in honor of a special young child taken much too soon. A walking path at College Park was dedicated to the memory of Brady Wells, who died in July 2010 at the age of 23 months after a difficult battle with pediatric leukemia.
"This is really an honor and it means the world to us," said Brady's mother Sherrie Wells. "Brady considered this his park, this was like his home and we used to walk down this path a lot."
Brady was diagnosed with non-differentiated acute Leukemia in October, 2009. He went through six rounds of chemotherapy and one peripheral blood stem cell transplant during his fight with the disease. But 72 days after Brady’s successful transplant, he relapsed before succumbing to his disease and passing away in Sherrie's arms.
"He was a very bright and precocious child," said Brady's father Mike Wells. "He was very inquisitive and fearless. He could never get enough of this park, he would've moved his bedroom here if he could have. We just miss him so much."
The Wells started the Hugs for Brady Foundation with the goal of helping the Cancer Institute of New Jersey and the Bristol-Myers Squibb Children's Hospital (BMSCH) fight the ongoing battle against pediatric cancer.
"We didn't want our son to become the poster child for a disease, and pediatric cancer is a hideous disease," Mike Wells said. "For 10 months he went through a living hell. The odds were against him from the very beginning. We just hope that what we do can bring some awareness to this disease."
The non-profit organization supports all causes concerning pediatric cancer, from buying custom built wagons, computers, televisions and video games for patients, to helping in the funding of financing a pediatric/hematology fellowship program. The foundation is working to raise $300,000 to help fund a three-year fellowship.
"It's sad that New Jersey doesn't have one fellowship program for pediatric cancer," Mike Wells said. "If we're going to find a cure then we need a strong fellowship program, and unfortunately there isn't one in New Jersey. We try to stay focused on helping other families and to help find a cure, as lofty a goal as that is, but you have to start somewhere."
The plan for the dedication of the path began last year when a neighbor of the Wells family asked the Township Council to dedicate the path to Brady and to ask for permission to put in a memorial plaque at the entrance.
"It's incredibly touching that our neighbors did something like this," Sherrie Wells said.
Sherrie said the playground in College Park was also a special place for Brady, as he loved going down the slide. Even as a young child, Brady was a practical joker and he used to fake out his grandmother by pretending he was about to hurl himself down the slide, before stopping at the last minute with a smile, and to the relief of his gasping grandmother.
The Wells are hopeful that future generations will see the plaque and that Brady's name will be mentioned in the same breath as Susan G. Komen, for the impact they have had on the fight against cancer. A garden is also planned for the site of Brady's memorial.
"He loved to pick flowers," Mike Wells said. "But he only picked them to give to somebody else. He must've picked just about every black-eyed susan at the hospital to give to the nurses and doctors."
The Wells said they are so grateful for the outpouring of support they have received from South Brunswick and are hopeful the foundation will help to carry on Brady's name and the impact he had on all who met him, especially those who come to visit the Brady Wells Memorial Pathway.
"This park was a very special place to us," Mike Wells said. "It's a place we can come to reflect on our son's short but meaningful life. He touched a lot of souls."