She’s always been Mommy and Daddy’s princess, but Briar Howell is being embraced as royalty in the community.
Briar’s Battle Buddies bracelets, #BattleforBriar decals and “Flat Briars” are emerging throughout northeastern Kentucky and beyond as a little girl from Raceland combats leukemia.
Briar turned 4 years old on Aug. 9, three weeks after scary moments led to an unsettling diagnosis.
Briar was the star of the show on Labor Day Weekend in Flatwoods, where the “Ball For Briar” 8U baseball tournament shined the spotlight on her for three days at Russell-Flatwoods Little League Complex.
Five teams — Briar’s Knights, Briar’s Wolfpack, Briar’s Steelers, Briar’s Pride and Briar’s Patriots, as reflected on shirts created by Norman’s Locker Room — participated in a competitive event that also featured “Bombs For Briar,” a home run derby on Saturday on the Double-A field.
Briar handed the Patriots’ Jake Casto a “Bombs For Briar” souvenir bat after the left-hander smacked three bombs in five swings.
Briar, donning a pink Minnie Mouse mask, tossed the ceremonial first pitch of the championship game between the Knights and Steelers on Sunday.
Briar’s brother’s team, the Knights, won the tournament. Noah Danner, her brother, played third base. Briar distributed medals to the runners-up and trophies to the champions.
Each team — along with the Briar’s Legends who could not take part because of scheduling conflicts — made significant donations to the family. The Russell Fraternal Order of Police handled concessions and gave 100% of its collected money to the Howells. Kona Ice set aside a portion for the family. Umpires and others volunteered their time and effort.
“So much work and heart was put into that tournament and every ounce of that showed,” Gina Howell, Briar’s mother, posted on the “Briar’s Battle” Facebook page. “Briar was truly treated like a princess! I believe that every person there was touched, I know our hearts were touched and the tears were flowing!”
Chris and Tammy Edmonds hosted a fish fry for Briar over the weekend as well. Gina Howell said the family was humbled by the support.
Grace Baptist Church in Flatwoods had a benefit yard sale for Briar this weekend.
Briar’s pertinent medical numbers were favorable at last check, which allowed Briar to be present for last weekend’s events.
In between her visits to the field for special moments and for photos with each team, she could be found munching on nachos and cheese or playing with family members.
Her journey has already been full of ups and downs. Gina and Justin Howell will never forget how this particular chapter of Briar’s life began on July 21.
Gina Howell penned their story on Facebook on July 30.
On Friday, July 17, Briar complained of a headache while camping. Her heart was racing, too. The concerned parents chalked it up to dehydration, assured she consumed plenty of water, and that seemed to do the trick.
On Monday, Briar’s heart raced again. By Tuesday, she had a high heart rate and a headache, so Mom took Briar to the ER for fluids, labs and other testing. Briar’s temperature reached 103.6 degrees, and labs revealed severe anemia.
By Tuesday night at Cabell Huntington Hospital, to where she’d been transported, a pediatric oncologist informed the Howells of the grim news. Briar had leukemia — specifically, B-Cell ALL (Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia).
“There was never any signs of limb pain, bruising, fatigue or shortness of breath, so a diagnosis of leukemia was a shock to all of us,” Gina Howell said. “She has a very good outlook on being cured, but it is going to be a very long and difficult journey for her to get there, but we have faith!”
The Howells contemplated whether or not to let Noah Danner, Briar’s 9-year-old brother, continue playing baseball — due to the COVID-19 pandemic and other factors. They decided, in order to retain some normalcy, to let him play.
The weekend after Briar’s diagnosis, Noah’s team donned “Briar’s Knights” shirts after dedicating the rest of the season to her. He drilled a ball to right field and legged out an inside-the-park home run despite stumbling out of the batter’s box in Barboursville. It was his only homer in 121 at-bats this summer.
The tough road ahead won’t be a walk in the park for Briar — she is facing two years of treatments. She’s already endured chemotherapy, blood transfusions, bone marrow biopsies, lumbar punctures and a mediport placement.
But Briar is not fighting alone.
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