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Sunset Valley second-graders rally to help fellow student

| Wednesday, April 24, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

When Cheyenne Anderson, a second-grader Sunset Valley Elementary School, fell ill, her classmates wanted to help her family.

Students at Sunset Valley Elementary School collected money for their classmate and her parents, Melissa and Larry Anderson of Jeannette, to help cover their expenses while she was in the hospital.

The Anderson family sends Cheyenne, who has Down syndrome, to Sunset Valley for specialized lessons in the school's life-skills classroom, which are unavailable in the Jeannette City School District, Melissa Anderson said.

Doctors admitted Cheyenne to the pediatric intensive care unit at the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh on Jan. 20 after she was diagnosed with viral pneumonia, Melissa said.

Pneumonia can be caused by bacteria or a virus. Viral pneumonia is more common in children because their underdeveloped bodies have a more difficult time fighting the virus, according to the National Institutes of Health.

“I thought she had an ear infection, but we noticed she wasn't able to breathe well,” Melissa said. “She ended up staying at the Children's Institute for 82 days.”

Almost immediately, Cheyenne's condition worsened, her mother said.

Eventually, doctors told Cheyenne's parents she had gone into respiratory failure and put her on a ventilator, Melissa Anderson said.

She remained on the ventilator for about 10 weeks and was under constant sedation.

Cheyenne's classmates grew worried about her, said Alice Needham, a life-skills teacher at Sunset Valley Elementary.

Since Cheyenne became sick, both of her parents have not left her side at the Children's Institute and were unable to work, Needham said.

“Everyone felt so helpless,” Needham said. “We wanted to help, so we came up with ‘Sunshine for Cheyenne,' so students could bring in money to help the family and send a message on a beam of sunshine or flower to Cheyenne.”

The program ran for approximately 10 days, and the students were able to collect approximately $2,000, Needham said.

They also created a book full of pictures and messages for Cheyenne, she added.

“I was amazed at the generosity of the families at Sunset Valley, and their care and support for this family,” Needham said.

Melissa Anderson said she knew Sunset Valley's students planned to send cards and notes to Cheyenne, but she and her husband were taken aback by the monetary gift.

“We were speechless,” Melissa Anderson said. “We only know kids in her classroom, but this proves to me there are still caring people in this world, and you just don't see that every day.

“We don't know these people, but they're all so caring, and there are no words to express how appreciative we are.”

Although Cheyenne's condition continues to improve, Melissa Anderson said her daughter has a long way to go before she can come home. She is undergoing physical therapy to learn how walk again, Melissa said.

“She's afraid to put weight on her legs, and we don't know if it's because she physically cannot or if she's mentally afraid of trying,” Melissa Anderson said. “She'll be staying at the Children's Institute until she's able to walk around again.”

Brad Pedersen is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8626, or

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