Community steps up to support hospitalized Dansville teen

Community Supports Dansville Teen

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Zaiden VanDurme-Blackmon is a three-season athlete and honors student at Dansville High School. He was just named the MVP during the school’s Christmas Basketball tournament. He’s also spent the last ten days in the hospital, fighting for his life.

Around Christmas, Zaiden came down with what his family thought was just a normal cold. After the basketball tournament, he told his mom he had a terrible headache. A few days later, Zaiden was checked into Golisano Children’s Hospital and in line for emergency brain surgery.

He was diagnosed with sepsis — a deadly condition that can develop from untreated infections. It’s something that kills nearly one in five people who develop it.

Since then, Zaiden’s mom Leslee VanDurme said it’s been a flurry of tests and procedures. She and her husband have been staying in a hotel while their son is in the Rochester hospital, an hour away from their hometown.

But while the family is going through a whole lot, they’re not doing it alone.

From classmates to community members to students on rival basketball teams, many have stepped up in and around Dansville to show support for Zaiden. 

“The students, the staff — faculty and staff — and the Dansville community has really rallied around Zaiden and his family,” Superintendent Thomas Kopp said. “Dansville’s a small community, and as in many small communities, there are pros and cons everywhere you live. Everybody knows your business, but when something goes wrong, everyone rallies to support you.”

Kopp said that the district has helped organize fundraisers, sent cards, and has spread the word on social media. And they’re not the only ones. Dansville Strong — a support group formed primarily to support children and families in need — has helped lead the charge. 

“I am very proud to be a part of this community because they just come together,” Dansville Strong organizer Karie Frisiras said. “Within two days [of his hospitalization] there were two people who volunteered to design a t-shirt and take on shirt sales to raise money for the family.”

In addition to tee-shirts, the community is also selling Zstrong bracelets to help curb medical costs.

Once Zaiden is released from the hospital, he’ll still have a few months of recovery — and regular hospital visits — before things go back to normal.

“This is a long road to recovery for Zaiden and we’re going to be there every step of the way,” Kopp said. 

He added that while the district’s main concern is Zaiden’s health, they’ll do what they can to keep him on track academically. Once he’s up for it, the district will send a tutor either to the hospital or to his home to help make sure that Zaiden can graduate in the spring.

“He’s always been one to give everything he does 150 percent,” Frisiras said. “Everybody’s doing every little bit they can to support the family, it’s just awesome.”

 To find out how to support the VanDurme-Blackmon family, visit their FaceBook page here.