100,000-plus Christmas cards bring holiday cheer to Kentucky boy with cystic fibrosis

gkocher1@herald-leader.comDecember 15, 2012 

  • To send Dalton a Christmas card, address it to: Dalton Dingus, HC 62 Box 1249, Salyersville, KY 41465

A gravely ill boy's wish to receive Christmas cards has snowballed to the point where he is receiving thousands of cards daily at the Magoffin County home of his grandparents.

The mail brings smiles to 9-year-old Dalton Dingus, who is in stage 4 of cystic fibrosis, while it has overwhelmed his parents, Jessica and Tommy Dingus of Salyersville.

"It brings me joy to see his face when he sees all this mail, and he knows it's for him," Jessica Dingus said.

The Eastern Kentucky county has 13,000 residents, but Jessica Dingus said that her son received 30,000 to 35,000 pieces of mail Thursday — an estimate confirmed by Salyersville Postmaster Vivan Bradley.

"He's getting more mail than the whole county," Bradley said Friday. "I have never seen anything like this. It's amazing."

On Friday, an additional 19,500 letters and 200 packages came, said Susan Wright, customer relations coordinator for the U.S. Postal Service in Lexington. Over the last couple of weeks, a mail truck has delivered cards twice a day.

"I feel like Santa Claus," mail carrier Joy Caldwell told ABCNews.com about seeing the boy come out to greet her truck.

The volume of mail has increased greatly since Dalton returned home Nov. 6 after a stay at University of Kentucky Children's Hospital in Lexington. The family was told Dalton had only two to eight days to live, but he seems to have stabilized over the last month, Jessica Dingus said.

The cards began arriving seven to 10 at a time after a neighbor, with the Dingus family's permission, posted a request on Facebook to send Christmas cards to Dalton as a show of support and love.

"Then it jumped to a thousand," Jessica Dingus said, and from there the response exploded. The mail is delivered to the home of Jessica's parents, Johnny and Francis Reed, where Dalton is staying. Neighbors help put the cards in the garage.

"I'm going to estimate that he has received 110,000," Jessica Dingus said Friday.

The cards have poured in from all over the globe. All 50 states in the United States. Africa. Australia. Europe.

"The only continent I don't think he has one from is Antarctica," Jessica Dingus said.

Jamie Panas, public relations manager for Guinness World Records, wrote in an email that the organization does not currently monitor records for receipt of the most Christmas cards. However, in 1992, the last time Guinness had a Christmas card category, Jarrod Booth of British Columbia, Canada, had a collection of 205,120 in February 1990.

Guinness has been in contact with Jessica Dingus and is interested in reopening a category should they receive a formal registration, Panas wrote.

"Record or not, everyone at Guinness World Records admires Dalton's courage and perseverance and wish him the very best," Panas added.

Jessica Dingus, 27, said she especially appreciates cards from families who have had children with cystic fibrosis.

"They share their stories with me, and that really helps me to see what they've gone through," she said. "Some of them have gone through the same thing, and their children have lived five years past when they were supposed to. It really gives me hope.

"He received one yesterday that I kept out for myself," she said. "It was from a woman who had a son who was 10 years old, and he has CF, and he has only one lung. ... That gives me a lot of hope that he's going to be OK."

Cystic fibrosis is an inherited disease that affects the lungs and digestive system. It affects the body's ability to move salt and water in and out of cells. That causes the lungs and pancreas to secrete thick mucus, blocking passageways and preventing proper function.

In the 1970s, most children with CF died by the age of 2, but the median life expectancy has gradually increased with new treatments. The disease affects about 30,000 children and young adults in the U.S., and about 3,000 babies are born with it each year.

Dalton was diagnosed in Lexington when he was 4, but he had been sick many times before then.

"They did X-rays and his lungs were already damaged," Jessica Dingus said. "From that day, they gave him two years to live. He is 9 years old now."

He seemed to have stabilized until about 18 months ago, when his health started to decline.

"In about the middle of 2011 is when he started getting really sick," Jessica Dingus said. "He was admitted twice in 2011, and this year he has been admitted three times."

Lately Dalton has been feeling chipper. He and his mother spend time coloring or working puzzles.

The Make-A-Wish Foundation delivered a 10-by-16 "clubhouse" with a recliner, a flat-screen TV and a PlayStation 3. It has a little heater, a mini-fridge, bunks beds and a loft. Dalton and his mother watch SpongeBob SquarePants and Tyler Perry's Medea movies.

"He laughs the whole time," she said. "He has days, though, where he doesn't feel well and he just wants to rest."

Finding time to rest is sometimes a challenge as well-wishers come to visit. Several Kentucky State Police troopers have come from the Pikeville post. Trooper Jimmie Stratton plans to bring a little trooper uniform — hat and all — for Dalton.

Postal workers from Mount Sterling were to deliver a Christmas card that is 4 feet high and 8 feet long.

Dalton's favorite card has a gingerbread man on the cover.

"It says 'Mr. Gingerbread says there's nothing like a homemade batch of Christmas cookies,'" Jessica Dingus said. "And you open it up and it shows a baking sheet, and it starts screaming 'Hot!" and moving and shaking all over. He loves it."

"Having something to look forward to has really helped him — helped him focus on getting these things instead of being so sick. It's a joy for me to see him feel the love that people are showing him."

Greg Kocher: (859) 231-3305. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety

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