Cherry Hill pediatric stroke survivor honored for contributions to American Heart Association

Evan Boxley received the Young Hearts Award from the American Heart Association after sharing his story at the 2016 Philadelphia Heart Ball.

Evan Boxley, 10, was recently award the American Heart Association’s Young Hearts Award for telling his pediatric stroke survival story.

Cherry Hill resident Evan Boxley is no different than any other 10-year-old boy.

Evan loves trains, bowling, watching TV shows and playing the trombone.

However, Evan has gone through an experience very few kids his age go through.

In 2013, Evan began to suffer severe headaches that gradually became more frequent and intense until one day, in October 2013, his symptoms began to get worse.

“He got sick at school, so we had to bring him home,” Evan’s mother Ayanna said. “We were waiting for a doctor’s appointment at home and he lost his ability to talk and do some fine motor things.”

Ayanna and Evan’s father Broderick took Evan to the hospital. There, it was discovered Evan was suffering a stroke.

The primary cause of Evan’s stroke was the presence of a small congenital tumor on his heart that caused a blood clot to form. Evan ended up having open-heart surgery to remove the tumor and embarked on a long rehab process where he would have to learn how to perform basic life skills such as walking and talking all over again.

It has now been more than two years since Evan last had stroke-related symptoms. Evan is now fully recovered and is the same, happy kid he was prior to the stroke.

However, there’s something new Evan has added to his life in recent years. He is now a volunteer, telling his story to help raise money for the American Heart Association and raise awareness about pediatric stroke. Earlier this summer, the American Heart Association recognized Evan’s efforts when it awarded him the Young Hearts Award, an award given annually to a young person whose outstanding contributions help support the American Heart Association’s mission.

A huge reason Evan is volunteering his time to AHA is because he wants to support others who are going through similar situations. After the open-heart surgery, Evan had to go through physical, speech and occupational therapy.

“It was kind of hard,” Evan said. “I was able to get through it and now I’m fine.”

Evan received a big boost during the recovery process from family, friends and members of the Sharp Elementary School community, where Evan attended classes.

“Our school community helped out,” Ayanna said. “They made a meal train. His principal came and visited him. His teachers, friends, parents of these kids drove him over to (Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia) to visit.”

Though Evan did suffer setbacks, including a couple of mini strokes in March 2014, he is now fully recovered. Later in 2015, Evan publicly told his story for the first time when he spoke to FOX 29 news in September. After the story ran, the American Heart Association contacted the Boxley family.

“The invitation was sent to my dad and my mom. I think they got it from the mail,” Evan said. “It said I was invited to the Heart Ball in February.”

Evan was invited to appear at the 2016 Philadelphia Heart Ball on Feb. 6, a black-tie event celebrating the efforts of the American Heart Association. All proceeds from the event went to the AHA.

Prior to the ball, a video featuring Evan and his family was filmed with Evan telling the story about his stroke. Evan and his family got to speak at the event and the video was played. Later than night, Evan got a chance to help with the silent auction.

“They started doing an auction to help raise money for the heart association,” Evan said. “I was calling out numbers with the auctioneer.”

Ayanna said having Evan’s story told at the ball was so important, mostly because the vast majority of stroke patients are 65 or older.

“Lots of people were surprised to hear everything he’s gone through,” Ayanna said. “It’s rare for kids to have strokes, but it does happen.”

Evan said he really enjoyed raising money for a cause he was personally connected to. About $75,000 was raised for the American Heart Association at the ball.

Despite all of the time Evan volunteered, he never expected to receive an award for his efforts. However, that is exactly what happened when in May, Evan and his family were invited to a June AHA board meeting, where Evan received the Young Hearts Award.

“I was really excited,” Evan said about when he found out he was going to receive the award.

Evan doesn’t plan to stop volunteering any time soon. He has received invitations for future speaking engagements, and Ayanna said the family will continue to support Evan and volunteer alongside him.

“Whatever he’s been invited to participate, if he wants to do it, we’re all for it,” Ayanna said. “We made a commitment as a family to help raise funds with the heart association.”

To learn more about Evan’s story, visit www.vimeo.com/153555979.