In early July, Joanne Dagg, BJ Jones and their two sons, Jack, 7, and Mitchell, who has just turned 6, left Dublin, Ireland, and moved to Sudbury.
Because Dagg was born and raised in Sudbury, Jack and Mitchell have dual Canadian-Irish citizenship.
Jones said the couple decided it was time to leave Ireland because the country's economy isn't doing well, and government-funded services for Mitchell, who has Down Syndrome, were being cut back. They figured Canada would be a better place for their son to receive the services he needs.
The family filed all the paperwork necessary to live in Canada, including applications for Jones' permanent residency and OHIP coverage for the whole family.
All was going well until Sept. 4, when the parents noticed a strange rash on Mitchell's body.
“We thought it was a minor heat rash, because kids get these things,” Jones said.
“The following day it hadn't gone away, and we thought just to be on the safe side, we'll drop into the doctor. The doctor recommended blood tests at the hospital. The blood tests were done, and we got a phone call a few hours later saying return to the hospital immediately.”
It turned out that Mitchell, known by friends and family members as “Mighty Mitch,” had developed high-risk acute lymphoblast leukemia. He and Dagg were airlifted to Ottawa's Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO).
The little boy was immediately started on chemotherapy, and is responding well to the treatment. Some of the side effects haven't been so good, though — at one point, he developed painful mouth sores, and had to be put on a morphine drip, Jones said.
His diapers also have to be changed every 40 minutes to an hour while he's on chemotherapy, because his urine is toxic to his skin.
During this whole episode, Jones has been staying in Sudbury so that his older son can attend school, but he's been driving to Ottawa most weekends along with family members so his wife can get some rest.
Dagg has barely left her son's side since he got sick, sleeping in a chair in his hospital room, Jones said. She doesn't feel comfortable leaving him alone because he doesn't understand what's happening to him due to his developmental delay and young age.
To see him literally knocked for six by nothing he did himself, it's just one of those things that life throws at you the odd time.
father of six-year-old leukemia patient Mitchell Jones
“It's not like you can sit down with a six-year-old and say 'Listen honey, we're in here and it's going to be a little bit difficult for awhile, and things are going to hurt, but everything will be OK,'” he said.
“Because he doesn't understand, all he knows is it hurts and all he's got is his mom. He's not at home anymore, he doesn't know where I am or where his brother is or his grandmother is.”
Jones said he hopes his son will be able to come back to Sudbury soon and receive treatments at Health Sciences North on an outpatient basis.
While Mitchell has been fighting for his life, his family has been experiencing something of a financial crisis. Because the application for the boy's OHIP coverage hasn't yet been processed, the family has started receiving bills for his hospital care.
Jones' permanent residency application also hasn't yet been approved, so he's not legally allowed to work in Canada. Dagg, who was planning to work at her daughter, Maggie's, dog grooming shop in Sudbury, is also unable to work because she's in Ottawa with Mitchell.
While the family is going through an “extraordinarily bad patch,” Jones said he's confident they'll survive, and “Mitch will walk out the other side of it.”
The family's situation hasn't gone unnoticed by the Sudbury community. A trust account for Mitchell has been set up at the Sudbury Credit Union location on Second Avenue.
A benefit concert for the little boy dubbed the “Mighty Mitch Concert of Hope” will take place starting at 8 p.m. Oct. 19 at the Caruso Club.
The concert will feature performances by No Logo, Ralph Dominelli, Jessy Brunette, Stephanie Fyfe, Sugar Daddy, The Bluez Brotherz Showband and Revue, Tommy Fyfe and the Whiskey River Blues Band and Under My Tongue.
Tickets, which cost $15 each, are available for purchase at Kia Sudbury, Pixatron, Puppy Love, Ramakko's and Tin Can Alley.
Jones said he and his wife are very grateful for the help. He said any money raised will go toward “the project known as Mitchell,” covering the family's expenses during the boy's hospital stay, as well as the cost of any services he might need after he's released, such as physiotherapy.
While Mitchell hasn't been in Canada very long, he's left a big impression, Jones said.
“He's a very engaging, likeable, loveable, smiley little kid,” he said. “To see him literally knocked for six by nothing he did himself, it's just one of those things that life throws at you the odd time. It's hit a nerve with hundreds of people.”
To learn more about the concert fundraiser, type in Mighty Mitch Concert of Hope or Fundraiser for Mitchell into the Facebook search bar.