Futures worth fighting for: Eli Butler

August 28, 2020

Meet kids like Eli during the annual Results Radio Cure Kids Cancer Radiothon presented by Jerry’s Auto Sales on Sept. 17 and 18.

Kristi and Rob Butler remember when everything changed.

A week before Halloween, their Sioux Falls home was filled with family and the happy chaos of their three young kids playing with cousins. The Butlers’ 3-year-old, Eli, was a flash of red and black, flying from room to room in his Spiderman costume.

They treasure that memory. It seems like the last time life felt truly free of worry.

Later that same night, Eli’s temperature soared; he came down with a fever that just wouldn’t go away.

Within a week, he was admitted to Sanford Children’s Hospital, and it wasn’t long before the family’s worst fears came true. Blood tests showed Eli had a form of lymphoma rarely seen in children.

“I was thinking, he’s my healthy, active, Spiderman superhero,” said Kristi. “Why are we going to the Castle?”

Just as the family came to terms with the diagnosis, the news got worse. Doctors discovered Eli also had leukemia.

“So then we’re like, how on Earth is that happening?” Rob said. “How does he have both? It’s like everything just kept catching us off guard.”

While the Butlers held their little boy in disbelief, Eli’s team at Sanford Children’s immediately had a plan to save his life. Both cancers could be treated the same way at the same time, but it would be a long road for everyone, involving at least three years of chemotherapy. Eli needed to start the first round immediately, and it would be aggressive.

“The toughest thing about it was just knowing how sick it was going to make him,” Rob said. “That, hey, we gotta make you sicker to get you better.”

“He became basically this 3-year-old that then turned into an 80-year-old,” Kristi added.


‘Now he’s a hero, too’

Today, Eli is in elementary school with his friends. His prognosis looks good.

“Eli, you know, loves, loves, loves Spiderman. That’s his hero. Well, now he’s a hero, too,” Kristi says. “He’s beating cancer.”

Looking back, what Eli remembers most isn’t being sick. Instead, he remembers the toy rooms and scavenger hunts in the Castle of Care … the handmade Spiderman tie blanket from a favorite Child Life Specialist … even learning to pedal a bike, taking laps around the ward, pulling his IV stand behind him.

For patients like Eli, Sanford Children’s isn’t a hospital. It’s a colorful, magical world, where kids facing the unimaginable can receive lifesaving care while still being kids.

“We can go across town and get everything we need right here in our own community because of the generosity of everybody,” Rob said.

“The love and care of the people that work there … it’s phenomenal. Knowing that that place is right there for our son and for anybody else’s kid is just … it’s a really nice feeling.”


Tune in, give and be inspired

The Results Radio Cure Kids Cancer Radiothon presented by Jerry’s Auto Sales hits the airwaves Sept. 17 and 18, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. We’ll be broadcasting live on Mix 97.3, KXRB 100.1, KIKN 100.5, B102.7 and Hot 104.7.

Tune in to hear inspiring stories about heroes like Eli, who count on support from Sanford Cures Kids Cancer. Call in your support or give online today!

100% of your gift will allow the team at Sanford Children’s to keep giving their 100% to our kids. Every dollar will support cutting-edge equipment and technology, assist families with costs not covered by insurance, make programs like Child Life possible and so much more.