Special Reports

Why this is one teen’s biggest Christmas ever even though it might be his last

Maddox Hyde limped out of his bedroom and around a deluge of cards and packages, donning red plaid pajama pants, a black tuxedo T-shirt and disheveled hair.

Then he fell back asleep on a chair next to a full-size tree decorated solely with ornaments he’s received from around the world.

Maddox Hyde dozes off as he sits among the thousands of cards and packages he’s received on Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018. Abby Drey adrey@centredaily.com

After all, he recently got back to Reynoldsville after spending time in New York City, which included a personal helicopter ride over the Big Apple, for the first time.

The trip was just the latest adventure doctors didn’t expect him to go on after he was diagnosed with terminal neuroblastoma and Guillain-Barre syndrome and was told he had “weeks to months (to live), probably closer to weeks.”

But it’s been slightly longer than a month now and he’s still fundraising for the Children’s Miracle Network, telling his family he loves them every chance he gets and looking forward to his next trip to Walmart.

‘What do we do from here?’

Before the 14-year-old began his “longtime cancer journey,” he was a rambunctious 6-year-old with ADHD getting ready to start kindergarten, according to his mother, Kristi Potter.

Then everything changed with a bloody nose that turned out to be a tumor the size of a grapefruit on his right adrenal gland.

“I had a hard time with it. I fell apart pretty good,” Potter said. “The first time, the doctors come in and wheeled in their purple chairs and there was probably about 10 of them and they told us that he was sick and that he had cancer and I fell apart. But, you know, the next thing was, ‘All right. What do we do from here?’ We always have a plan.”

Fourteen year old Maddox Hyde reads a set of Christmas cards that were sent from a military base on Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018. Boxes of cards and packages fill his family’s Reynoldsville home after the terminally ill teen requested cards. Abby Drey adrey@centredaily.com

Hyde went into remission for 18 months, but then an inoperable tumor was found on his right hip. Then he went into remission a second time, but was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre three days later and had to relearn how to walk, eat and write — which he did.

“To watch him do that, I was very proud of him. I literally had tears in my eyes the first time he took a step,” Hyde’s stepfather Steve Potter said. “Yeah, I’m his stepdad, but the step doesn’t matter. As far as I’m concerned, he’s my kid. When I saw him take that first step, I cried. We see him fight through everything. It sucks. It hurts, man, but it is what it is. It’s amazing.”

Ten months later, doctors found a small tumor on Hyde’s spine. The treatments worked initially, but then it “exploded.” He was given his “weeks to months” diagnosis on Nov. 19 — three days before Thanksgiving.

Hyde and his family then decided hospice care was the best way to control his pain as he “lives his final weeks.”

A Christmas wish

The initial idea to ask for Christmas cards actually came from one of Kristi Potter’s friends. The thought was that it would reverberate throughout the community and possibly stuff his mailbox.

They were mistaken.

He’s now received more than 100,000 cards and packages from all 50 states, six of the seven continents and at least 44 countries.

Some of the more prominent cards and packages include:

  • Five United States flags, including two that were flown in combat missions in Afghanistan
  • A signed letter from former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton
  • A signed letter from Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro
  • A signed jersey from Reynoldsville native and Oakland Raiders tight end Paul Butler
  • A signed card from Lock Haven native, former Penn State and current San Francisco 49ers kicker Robbie Gould
  • A signed card and football from the Pittsburgh Steelers
  • A jersey, basketball and sweat bands from the Harlem Globetrotters
Maddox Hyde has received thousands of Christmas cards in the last month including a letter from Hillary Clinton. Abby Drey adrey@centredaily.com

Maddox Hyde has received thousands of Christmas cards in the last month in addition to packages like a signed football from San Francisco kicker Robbie Gould, and a signed football from the Pittsburgh Steelers. Abby Drey adrey@centredaily.com

“I think it just brought people together and I like to see where each card is from. And a lot of them have jokes,” Hyde said with a laugh.

Oh, and a quick piece of advice for those who may send him cards: He will judge your handwriting and prefers print over cursive.

‘He is an inspiration.’

Throughout the entire process, Kristi Potter said her son hasn’t changed much. He hasn’t accepted what’s been happening and believes he’s going to beat it again, even if he’s not sure how.

“I’ve tried to get him to understand the severity of it and he says, ‘Mom, it doesn’t matter. I’ve beat it how many times.’ He says, ‘I don’t feel any different,’“ Potter said. “He says, ‘Maybe I will beat it again.’”

But it has weighed heavily on her emotions at times.

She was a pizza delivery driver before Hyde received his diagnosis and subsequently had a lot of interaction with those in a town of about 2,600 people.

With each door she knocked on, there was a good chance someone was going to ask how her son was doing. The anxiety of it all led to her stop delivering pizzas, for now, while she continues to drive a school van.

“It’s made me weak and it’s made me strong. It definitely knocked me down a little bit, but at the same time it makes you stronger as a person, as a caretaker and as a mom,” Potter said. “For such a negative situation, so much positive has come out of this that I could’ve never imagined.”

A key and angel wins hangs on the front of a card Kristi Potter reads that was sent to her son Maddox on Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018. Abby Drey adrey@centredaily.com

As for her husband — who she met online and entered their lives about three years ago — he asked himself: “Can I really get involved in this? Is this something I want to a part of?”

The answer was a resounding yes.

“I met him and all that went away. The day I met him I was like, ‘I have no problem being here.’“ Potter said. “He is an inspiration. I’ve been saying that since I’ve known the kid. When I met him, he could barely move. He can walk now, he can do everything now and that alone inspires me. But then to have everybody else around the world confirm that, yes, he is an inspiration to everybody, it’s true.”

The biggest Christmas ever

When listening to both Potters describe their almost industrialized process for opening such a large volume of cards, it begins to sound more and more like they’re running a business with employees that have set hours.

Whether it’s family members, local churches or anyone willing to lend a helping hand, it’s been a time-consuming process. One day, Hyde received about 9,000 cards and the family, along with about eight others, spent about eight hours opening them all.

They’ve since run out of room to store all of the cards in their house, so Potter’s mother offered to keep about 13,000 at her house. Local churches have also offered up their basements as a place to store the cards.

But no matter where they’re stored, not a single card has been thrown away.

“I think it’s been not necessarily the best Christmas, but the biggest Christmas we’ve ever had by far,” Kristi Potter said. “This Christmas, it probably will be — I don’t even want to say it probably will be. Hopefully it’s not the last holiday. He’s doing better than the doctors ever would have thought.”

As for Hyde, he just wants you to know he is happy.

“I just want to say thanks to everyone that has sent cards, presents and other stuff like that,” Hyde said. “And it just makes me happy to see how many people are actually out there caring.”

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Bret Pallotto primarily reports on courts and crime for the Centre Daily Times. He grew up in Lewistown and graduated from Lock Haven University.