(SAVANNAH, Mo.) It was three years to their wedding day that Daniel Atkinson, a former football player at Missouri Western, and his wife, Mandi, a one-time basketball player at Northwest, welcomed their first child, Harper, into the world.
But it didn't take long for the new family to hit a big road block.
"We noticed there was an abnormality, an abnormal growth, on her lower back," Atkinson said. "You could just kind of tell that it wasn't quite right."
Harper was born with a teratoma tumor on her back, a condition found in less than seven percent of newborns. It was benign, but had malignant cells around it. While the tumor itself was treated, the baby carried a dangerously high level of Alpha-Fetaprotein, an essential protein produced in an infant's liver.
This raised the possibility of chemotherapy.
"I think I was just trying to be strong and just tried to get through one doctor appointment at a time just for the strength of my wife and my family."
"I don't know if it was just the stages of grief I was going through, but I think it was about two months afterwards that I started to break down. I started to get a little angry, but then got back on track and more focused on what we had to go through."
Atkinson is also now in his second year as a business teacher and football and wrestling coach, and it didn't take long for his story to reach his students. When they found out about his family's battle, they jumped at the opportunity to help.
"We needed a service project for FCCLA, and we decided it would be a great opportunity," Savannah student Trent Young said.
"We started by getting everybody together and just deciding the dates that we wanted to sell everything," fellow student Cameron Hanna said. "We talked to the cheerleaders and band about buying certain stuff."
FCCLA students created the "Hope for Harper" campaign to help with the family's medical expenses. T-shirts, wristbands, gift cards, and Chiefs ticket giveaways were among the methods they used to raise money. Local businesses like Goochy Goo BBQ and Chili's have jumped on board as well.
Harper was present at Savannah's homecoming football game where the students raised a big chunk of the $2,300-plus total. Atkinson expressed the overwhelming feeling of how the town has rallied around his daughter.
"It just mushroomed out into this huge community uproar of: 'What can we do?' 'We'd like to this, we'll donate that,'" Atinson said.
"There are tons of people of people that have their stories from Children's Mercy (Hospital)," Hanna added. "Those people definitely help out a lot because they know what it's like."
As the campaign continues, the Atkinson's recently received news that Harper will not need chemotherapy at this time. She will continue to be monitored until she is four years old, but will avoid treatment if her protein levels continue to drop.
"I didn't have to go through this alone and my family didn't have to go though this alone," Atkinson said. "It just felt like this huge weight had been lifted. We're not in the clear, but we're headed in the right direction."
To donate to the Hope for Harper fund, contact Savannah High School at 816-364-3128.