News From Terre Haute, Indiana

November 22, 2013

The Amazing Matt

Rio Grande Elementary rallies behind inspirational student battling Leukemia

Dianne Frances D. Powell
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — As Mariah Carey’s famous song, “Hero” was playing, a mother and son affectionately rubbed foreheads together while looking into each other’s eyes with a smile during a Friday afternoon assembly at a Terre Haute elementary school.

Cindy Nysschen looked lovingly at her son, Matt — who is currently on a battle against cancer — during the special, emotional assembly at Rio Grande Elementary School, where many of the hundreds of students, teachers and staff wore a red Spider-Man-themed T-shirt with the words, “The Amazing Matt is our Hero.”

The same school community joined forces to raise money to help with Matt’s medical expenses and to secure donations for some of his other needs. Those donations were presented at the assembly.

But before the presentation, tears streamed down many faces at the gathering held at the school’s gym as the song played. The words of the song were accompanied by a picture slideshow depicting Matt’s journey with cancer.

“It’s been a hard and long journey,” Cindy told the Tribune-Star.

The hero’s journey

The journey began in December last year when Matt was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia called acute promyelocytic leukemia or A.P.M.L. It is a subtype of acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), a cancer of the blood and bone marrow.

As the words “And then a hero comes along, with the strength to carry on ...” were sung in the background, the slideshow showed emotional pictures of Matt’s stay in the hospital — some of them showed him tired and resting, some showed his smile and fighting spirit.

There was also a picture of him in the hospital bed with Santa and a group of people wearing Colts gears visiting him.

But two particular pictures drew reactions from the crowd. A picture of Matt kissing a dolphin made the students, their grades ranging from K-5, excited. Matt’s wish of swimming with dolphins was granted by the Make-A-Wish Foundation.  

The other was a picture of Cindy kissing her son’s forehead while in the hospital bed.  Both faces looked tired and weary.

Matt, who also has a form of autism, was in and out of the hospital for more than 100 days over a 7-month period.

“It was a long, long road. Very tiring,” Cindy said.

She said her inspiration to keep going comes from her faith in God and the support of family and friends.

As the pictures were shown, words explained some of the various treatments that the 9-year-old went through.

“April 15-20 Matt had to start a treatment where the doctors would have to do a spinal tap with chemo and bone marrow aspiration,” the slideshow said of one of the treatments.

In addition to the treatments, Matt also had to endure the side effects, including hair and hearing loss.

“May 2-May 12 Matt had to start another round of treatments. Matt had a spinal tap which placed chemo into his spine...” another slide said.

“Sometimes the treatments made Matt feel so bad. He wished it was over,” the slideshow stated.

He was also in the ICU at three different times, his father, Buddy, who was also present at the assembly, said.

“Every time, it’s like a heartbeat away from the end,” he said.

‘It came from the heart...’

But it was never over for Matt, Buddy, Cindy, and Matt’s older brother, Juan.

“I’m going to be a doctor when I grow up,” Matt energetically told the Tribune-Star after the assembly.

He also said he likes Spider-Man because he was a normal guy who acquired special powers and helped people. He would also like to help people some day, as a doctor.

Matt is currently under remission and in due course, the family is optimistic that its youngest member will fully recover.

“From the time he was born, he always had a never-give-up attitude,” Buddy said.

And this attitude inspired many at the school and the community.

Touched by Matt’s incredible journey, Cassie Ellis, Matt’s resource teacher (special needs), spearheaded a fundraising effort to help with Matt’s medical needs.

“He is one of my children,” the teacher said, “I just wanted to do something for his family.”

She worked with Fast Track Apparel to come up with the T-shirt design and later sold more than 150 T-shirts in the school and the community. A check for more than $1,000 was presented to the family at the assembly, which was a “big surprise,” Buddy said.

This gesture was appreciated by the family.

“We are very touched by everything they’ve done for us,” Buddy said after the assembly.

“They have been with us right from the beginning,” Cindy said.

Others in the community also joined in the effort.

During her remarks, Ellis acknowledged Terre Haute Savings Bank, which donated the money that was used to purchase shirts for all of the students in her class and another class in the school.

“Another generous donation was made by Terre Haute Firefighters Union Local #758.  They donated $250,” Ellis said.

And to help with one of the side effects of Matt’s treatment — hearing loss — a company called Connect Hearing donated two hearing aids to Matt.  

The hearing aids will be a huge help, Cindy said.

“It came from the heart to have the support behind us,” she said.

A brave soul

Also behind the family during the presentation was a banner on the wall with the words, “We love you Matty,” a clear message to Matt from his friends.

But a few recorded messages were also played at the end of the slideshow presentation. Each message described why Matt is that person’s hero.

“Matt is my hero because it takes a lot of courage and strength to fight for your life every day and Matt is able to do it with a smile on his face,” Ellis said.

Other messages described Matt as strong, a hard worker and a fighter.

And from his family, Matt received a message that urges him to continue his never-give-up attitude.

“Matty, as your dad, I see what a brave soul, you really are. I see how strong you are and I want you to just keep on fighting and never, ever give up,” Buddy told his son.

And Matt’s response, scribbled at the end of the slideshow, indicated that he will never give up.

“I’m going to beat this cancer with your prayers — Matt.”

Tribune-Star Reporter Dianne Frances D. Powell can be reached at 812-231-4299 or