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Nov 6, 2015 4:36 PM

Rollinsford boy, battling cancer, gets a little help from technology to return to school


ROLLINSFORD - While many kids may frown at the thought of sitting in a school classroom, Levi Whitcomb couldn't be more excited. And recently, thanks to the help of some new technology, it just became a little bit easier.

Whitcomb, age 10, was diagnosed with brain cancer in April. He spent months in Boston area hospitals, receiving dozens of radiation and chemotherapy treatments.

Luckily, his health appears to be improving: he is able to be more active, he can finally watch his brother's hockey games again and he even got to go swimming towards the end of the summer.

But perhaps his favorite accomplishment on the road to healing is being able to spend time again with his close friends at school.

He was able to return to the classroom at Rollinsford Grade School, where he is a 5th grader. While he often still can't spend full days due to appointments, he cherishes every second he can.

“I knew people were missing me, and they wanted to see me," Whitcomb said. "I can actually do stuff that other kids can.”

The "other kids" have been a vital part of Whitcomb's journey: they're the boost to his spirit, and give him the energy to smile again.

“He’s a really good kid," said Shelby Anderson, who became close to Whitcomb over the past year. "I don’t get why he has to go through this.”

When NH1 News first interviewed Whitcomb in July, he had just returned home after spending months in the hospital.

Friends said it was clear Whitcomb had been through a lot.

“He used to go outside and play basketball everyday with his awesome Mohawk spiked up, and now he has scars in the back of his head and doesn’t have any hair," Anderson said, describing the physical change that has challenged Whitcomb's body.

A lengthy operation to remove a growing mass on Whitcomb's brain also caused him to lose hearing in one of his ears and impacted nerves on the left side of his body.

Recently, doctors may have found a different mass or returned growth of the former mass that was removed, Whitcomb's mother Jennifer Pepin said.

Pepin told NH1 News that doctors are hopeful that continued treatments will make the new apparent mass growth go away.

But Whitcomb doesn't let the new developments get in the way of his excitement to get back to school. And luckily for him, when he isn't able to make it in person, he has some new help: a robot.

“He’s just trying to make sure I can see my friends when I'm not attending school," Whitcomb said.

The donated robot, which connects via wireless internet, can be controlled remotely by Whitcomb on a specially-designed laptop featuring a video conference monitor - allowing him to participate in classroom discussions.

School employees said the white machine, which easily glides down hallways, serves as a physical reminder to others about why Whitcomb isn’t there in person.

“I think it just helps build the empathy among our students, that one of their classmates – one of their schoolmates – is struggling," said guidance counselor Julie Person. "And he’s not lucky that he’s not coming to school, he’s battling something very, very serious.”

Whitcomb's fight is long from over. He currently spends nine days a month at hospitals for chemotherapy treatments and other appointments.


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