Dekota Surette receives a high-spirited farewell from schoolmates as he leaves school Friday. PHOTO BY STEPHEN FAY

Facing surgery, Ellsworth boy gets a whole-school sendoff

ELLSWORTH — There are 101 good reasons to raise your kids in a small town. By Friday afternoon, there were 102.

Last Friday, after school lunch, Dekota Surette and his mom worked their way through the corridors of Ellsworth Elementary-Middle School. They were leaving a little early to prepare for the drive to Boston. Dekota, who suffers from epilepsy, was going to Boston for surgery to bring his seizures under control.

Progress through the school hallways was slow and affectionate. Students, teachers, ed techs, custodians, counselors, coaches, principals and parents lined the corridors, arms outstretched for high-fives and hugs.

Dekota’s favorite color is pink. School Resource Officer Amie Torrey showed up equipped with her pink handcuffs.

Most everyone was dressed in pink, Dekota’s favorite color. They knew Dekota and they knew about his surgery. They’d come out to say goodbye and good luck. And also: happy birthday. Dekota turned 13 on Friday.

Dekota and his mom, Tiffany, were greeted along the hallways by classmates and staff, variously arrayed in pink T-shirts, tights, bandanas, skirts and shorts. School Resource Officer Amie Torrey’s pink handcuffs were clipped to her belt. The principal, Mr. Newett, wore his pink necktie. Girls with pink nails and boys with pink hair handed Dekota birthday cards and hand-drawn pictures.

By the hundreds, the good wishes kept on coming. Via video, Facetime and email, students in Cutler, Machias, Lamoine, Hancock and southern Maine sent in messages of support and prayers for a swift recovery. Dekota will need them.

“This surgery has the potential to bring Dekota a whole new way of living,” special education teacher Kristy Hardison wrote. “Our emotions are a mix of great hope, a recognition of the precious and vulnerable nature of the young boy, thoughts guarded against belief in anything but overcoming known risks of surgery and a love that is hard to quantify with simple words.”

Gathered for a group portrait are (from left) special education teacher Kristy Hardison, Dekota, Kayla Hardison (Kristy’s daughter and Dekota’s Challenger Baseball buddy) and (in back) Raeleen Erskine, Dekota’s ed tech and Ticia Shelton, an ed tech in his classroom.

One day last year, Dekota approached special education teacher Rebecca Maddocks-Wilbur and asked, “Mrs. M-W, can you do anything to help me not have any more seizures?”

The question “just about broke my heart,” she recalled.

Hardison wrote to say that Dekota is due to undergo surgery Wednesday. The operation involves a team of neurosurgeons operating on a portion of the brain responsible for transmission of neurological impulses, including those random ones that lead to seizure activity.

Hardison said Dekota had been given permission to bring his digital camera to school on Friday.

“He took dozens of pictures of people he loves. … Every single photo, whether student or staff was just beautiful. Truly! I think I know why. Every picture was beautiful because staff and students were looking upon Dekota and reflecting back on their faces what they see in him.”


What is being done to help the family?

  • Ellsworth Challenger Baseball (of which Dekota is a member) has set up a Go Fund Me account for Dekota and his family called Team Dekota.
  • EEMS DONATIONS: Supporters have worked in communication/cooperation with Todd Wagstaff to direct any EEMS staff wishing to donate to do so through the Challenger Go Fund
Stephen Fay

Stephen Fay

Managing Editor at The Ellsworth American
Stephen Fay, managing editor of The Ellsworth American since 1996, is a third-generation Californian. Starting out as a news reporter in 1974, he has been an editor since 1976, working in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont before settling in Ellsworth with his wife and two daughters. [email protected]

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