It all came too soon

Early edition

Published November 16, 2006

ST. PETERSBURG — Caletha Proctor sat on an old dining room chair in her meagerly furnished apartment

Wednesday. Steps away, her 6-year-old son, Avant Brown, lay dying, his frail body covered with a Spiderman sheet.

His grandmother leaned over the boy and wept, but his mother had no more tears to shed. Proctor, 23, worried she would be unable to give her son a decent burial.

“I’m trying to figure out what I’m going to do when he goes,’’ the single mother said.

That time came all too soon. Thursday morning, the little boy who loved basketball, Sponge Bob and Spiderman died, lying on an old loveseat in the apartment he shared with his mother and older sister.

Proctor, who had refused to leave her son’s side, was not there when he died. She had taken a quick break at her mother’s house nearby. Avant died soon after she left.

“My mom said he was waiting for me to leave,’’ Proctor said.

 The little boy was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia, a fast-growing cancer of the blood and bone marrow, at 3 years old.

“We didn’t know what was wrong,’’ said Viola Walker, 43, his grandmother. “He just wasn’t playful. He didn’t have any energy.’’

A cousin, Carolyn Starling Cloud, realized early that Avant was ill. His mother had enrolled him at her school, the Starling School and Day Care.

“When he turned 3, he started to be lethargic,” Cloud said. “Letha would take him to the doctor and the doctor would say it was just a cold. She was a caring mother.

“I noticed that he stopped eating. He would come to school and he would sit around the whole day. One day, he was on the playground and he put his head in my lap and said, 'Miss Cloud, I don’t feel good.’ ’’

Cloud said she urged Proctor to find out what was wrong. The child was diagnosed with leukemia soon after. He was given chemotherapy and for two and half years, the cancer appeared to be in remission, his mother said. This summer, though, Avant became ill again. In early August, Proctor learned the dreadful news: The cancer had returned.

He was admitted to All Children’s Hospital. Proctor, who had been making a four-hour round trip by bus to her job at the Best Western on Treasure Island, decided to limit her work hours to weekends so she could spend time with her son. When doctors said they could do no more, she quit work and took him home.

“He said he wanted to come home,’’ she said shortly after he died. “He was a good boy and he never complained.’’

  Proctor quit her $7-an-hour housekeeping job to care for her ailing child almost three months ago. Her wages and monthly $600 Supplemental Security Income payments have provided barely enough for living, much less for dying.

The living room furniture, television and radio she tried to buy through a rent-to-own firm were repossessed, leaving her family with an odd assortment of cheap plastic and battered wooden chairs in their Pinellas Point Drive S apartment.

As Avant neared death, people began trying to help. On Wednesday, a man donated a used couch and loveseat.

Cloud promised financial help and asked others to pitch in, including some civic and social groups and a couple churches.

She also called Lakewood Elementary School, where Avant had been in first grade and where his 8-year-old sister, Andrea, is in the third grade.

Family friend Connie Chance asked members of her church to help. “We’re trying to do the best we can,’’ she said of the tiny Mount Moriah Primitive Baptist Church.

Zion Hill Mortuary picked up Avant’s body Thursday morning. Dwayne Matt, owner of the mortuary, said he expected to discuss funeral arrangements with Avant’s family today.

“I do have a casket that will be donated and I will be donating some of my services,’’ he said. “We do have to reach out to families in need and show the community that we are trying to help families like this.’’

— Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Times staff writer Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at 892-2283 or moore@sptimes.com.