“Nov. 5, 2015 our world fell apart.”
Those seven short words are how St. Augustine couple Lisa and Michael Branck described the shock and pain of learning their 13-year-old son, Ethan, had a rare form of bone cancer.
One day their son was a happy teenager and aspiring young soccer player who moved to St. Augustine with his family last year, started attending Sebastian Middle School, and tried out for the school’s soccer team. But his father noticed that something was off. Ethan was tiring easily and not playing with the same intensity as he once had, so his father decided to take him to the doctor. After many doctor’s visits and tests, Ethan was diagnosed with metastatic Ewing’s sarcoma, and as a result of this rare type of bone cancer, had to have his right leg amputated.
Ponte Vedra Beach resident and soccer coach Stuart Impey heard about Ethan and together, he and the two teams of boys he coaches wanted to do something to help.
“I have a 13-year-old son and it really got me because all us parents who have kids who play soccer, it could have been any of our boys,” Impey said.
The head soccer coach at Landrum Middle School, Impey also serves as assistant coach of his son’s soccer team, the Ponte Vedra Storm U-14 Gold. Many of the boys from the Landrum team and some members of the Ponte Vedra Storm had already decided to run the Run 13.1 and 5K half marathon on April 3 at The Jacksonville Landing. After hearing about Ethan’s story, the group decided to turn the run into a fundraising opportunity to help Ethan’s family with the mounting cost of medical bills. They set up a Go Fund Me page and managed to raise almost $12,000 in one month. They named their fundraising group “EB’s Toon Army” in honor of their fellow soccer player.
“We were just amazed that we got this call out of the blue and this generosity and forethought to help Ethan out,” Branck said. “It’s just amazing what (Impey’s) doing and the support and the overall attention that he’s brought,” Branck said.
The Brancks are especially touched by the outpouring of the community, considering the family is new to the area. “The family also expressed appreciation for the local organizations that have stepped in to help, including The Tom Coughlin Jay Fund and the Tim Tebow Foundation. Ethan and his family were invited to attend the 2016 Tim Tebow Foundation Celebrity Gala and Golf Classic, where Ethan enjoyed a private meeting with Tebow, who signed and threw a football with him.
Ethan has also received good tidings from a number of other organizations. The Jacksonville Armada FC soccer team sent Ethan and his family tickets to a game and some Armada swag. He also received a letter from the personal assistant to the head coach of Ethan’s favorite soccer team, Newcastle United, a letter from NBA star LeBron James, a visit from two of the Jacksonville Jaguars and a card signed by the Fruit Cover Middle School girls’ varsity team.
“The community support,” Branck said, “has been outstanding.”
Donations to Ethan Branck’s fund may be made online at www.gofundme.com/27dusmmk or www.gofundme.com/ebstoonarmy.