Manitoba

Boy with fatal disease receives more than 1,000 Christmas cards after saying he felt lonely

Sitting on his grandmother's couch, squeezed in between his parents, 10-year-old Sheldon Steuart grinned as he opened cards Saturday from strangers wishing him a merry Christmas.

Sheldon Steuart, 10, smiled as he read cards sent to him from around the country

Sheldon Steuart received hundreds of cards Saturday from all across Canada. The 10-year-old suffers from Batten disease. His grandma Lindsay Cook tells CBC what it's meant to the family. 1:07

Sitting on his grandmother's couch in Winnipeg, squeezed in between his parents, 10-year-old Sheldon Steuart grinned as he opened cards Saturday from strangers wishing him a merry Christmas.

Many were handmade by other children his age, made of red construction paper adorned with glitter, cotton balls and pipe cleaners. Some were letters written out in pencil crayon on computer paper.

At least two came from officials — Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman and a member of Alberta's legislative assembly.

"My heart is just overflowing," said Lindsay Cook, Sheldon's grandmother, as she sat on her living room floor surrounded by bins full of envelopes and cards.

"It just boosts you. It gives you another big boost."

Cole Steuart holds up one of Sheldon's Christmas cards. He plans to build a shefl to display them. (Justin Fraser/CBC)

Earlier this year, Sheldon was diagnosed with Batten disease. The rare, degenerative condition is fatal. Children who inherit Batten often die by the time they reach their teens or early 20s.

Over the past year, Sheldon went from a busy, talkative boy to one that needs assistance with basic motor functions like walking. His family has watched him lose the ability to speak; his condition gets a little worse every day.

Thinking toward Christmas, Cook worried about how the holidays would go.

"How were we going to do this? Like as a family. Then this happened and it's totally changed everything," she said, looking down at the cards.

"Honestly it restores your faith in humanity."

Sheldon Steuart, 10, received more than 1,000 Christmas cards. (Justin Fraser/CBC)

Jody Zarn, director of Laps 4 Life, a group that advocates for families affected by Batten disease. said she came up with the idea of asking strangers to wish Sheldon a happy Christmas earlier this month. His mother had said he was feeling lonely.

Laps 4 Life currently supports five Manitoba families with children who have the condition or who have since passed away from it.

Zarn sent out a plea to her network after hearing Sheldon was feeling down.

"I literally put a post out on Facebook on my personal page and a mother's group and I thought maybe we might get 20 cards. I wasn't expecting a lot."

Sheldon's grandmother, Lindsay Cook, reads one of the cards addressed to him on Saturday. (Justin Fraser/CBC)

Within the span of a week, more than 1,000 cards arrived. Most were from Manitobans, but every province and nearly every territory was represented.

Zam and her family delivered them to Sheldon on Saturday.

"For me I think it's a proud day to be Canadian," said Zarn.

Sheldon's father, Cole Steuart, plans to build a shelf next to his son's bed and rotate through all the cards. He wants him to have the chance to see them all.

"His face lights up whenever he opens up a card," he said. "We're just very grateful. Thank you."

About the Author

Laura Glowacki is a reporter based in Winnipeg. Before moving to Manitoba in 2015, she worked as an associate producer for CBC's Metro Morning in Toronto. Find her on Twitter @glowackiCBC and reach her by email at laura.glowacki@cbc.ca.