Bracelets in the News

'Keep believing,' nine-year-old tells Oilers

When the Oilers were down two games in the series against San Jose, a nine-year-old cancer survivor sent the team an inspirational message.On the morning before Game 3, Elexis Ortlieb, a Grade 4 student at Rio Terrace elementary school, delivered 52 blue rubber bracelets, imprinted with the words “Keep Believing,” to the Oilers.”They were a bit down in the dumps,” said Elexis, who designed the bracelets two years ago while battling leukemia.She was watching an interview after the second loss when an Oilers player said the team just needed to keep believing. She thought it was a sign.

“We just thought that was perfect,” said her mother, Ellen Ortlieb. Elexis didn’t know if the bracelets would get to the players in time for the game, but she wasn’t worried.

“We walked out of there thinking ‘They’re fine, they’re going to win,’ ” said Ellen.

That night the Oilers triumphed over the Sharks in triple overtime and went on to win the next three games, taking the series.

“I felt really, really good,” Elexis said with a big smile.

Today the four-foot-four student, with freckles on her cheeks and curly brown hair tucked under an Oilers cap, is healthy enough to run around the family’s Leduc County property with her Jack Russell terrier, Taz.

But just over a year ago she was too sick to go to school or play with friends.

Elexis was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia when she was three.

After years of treatment she was declared cancer-free in March 2003. But by Christmas Eve of the same year she relapsed. The following February she contracted a fungal infection, beginning another long struggle in the hospital.

“Sometimes it’s hard to stay focused and to have hope,” Ellen said. “She never gave up hope. She kept believing that she was going to get through that.”

And a year later, Elexis beat her disease. Medical staff at the Stollery Children’s Hospital found an experimental drug which cured the infection, and in December 2004 she received a bone marrow stem-cell transplant. “What a gift for someone to give to a person,” Ellen said.

From her experience with cancer, Elexis was inspired to help others.

While she was fighting her second bout of leukemia she had the idea for the bracelet. She decided on blue because it was a colour close to God and angels, and chose the message “believe.”

That day she received a letter from a hospital playroom worker who signed off with “Keep believing.” Again, to Elexis, it was a sign.

Since then Elexis has raised more than $2,500 through sales of her bracelet, with proceeds going to the Kids with Cancer Society in Edmonton.

She also inspired her school to collect donations by holding a walkathon. And her family hosts a horse show, Jump With Hope, for Kids with Cancer at their equestrian centre, Amberlea Meadows.

“She’s just a wonderful example of spirit and the never-give-up philosophy,” said Michael Kasserra, Elexis’s teacher.

Elexis hopes some of that spirit will help the Oilers beat the Anaheim Ducks and reach the Stanley Cup finals.