Roy Exum: Lexi & The Fraternity Boys

Monday, December 7, 2015 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

The thing started as a little inside joke, something that a mother and her sick daughter thought would be funny in a very serious place. And as is the way with funny stories, funny things began to happen. Lexi Brown, a pert 12-year-old who has not let an uphill fight against cancer deter her zest to live life large, made a sign “Need Pizza!” and put it up in the window of Mattel Children’s Hospital, which is next to the UCLA campus.

Across the street from Lexi’s room is the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house and, sure enough, one of the fraternity brothers saw the sign and shortly thereafter came knocking on Lexi’s hospital door. In walked five members of SAE, bearing a huge bouquet of roses and, of course, a still-steaming pizza.

One even had a guitar slung over his shoulder and sometime within the next 30 minutes two very memorable things occurred.

Lexi’s mother, Lisa told NBC News, "They introduced themselves and said, 'We saw your sign; we're here.' They stayed for a half an hour, they sang this song and I started bawling my head off. I'm like, 'I can't believe these people are here for my child.' We don't know them. They're 18-to-24-year-old guys. And it's just ridiculous."

Again: two things – the second unheard of: an entire fraternity at UCLA fell heads-over-heels in love with the same girl, and no disease in the history of medicine spread as quickly as the army that was soon gathered to give Lexi Brown’s family the most phenomenal support crowd on the west coast.

Josh Rosen, a member of the fraternity who is the same Josh Rosen that stars at quarterback for the Bruins, brought a handful of tickets, and when Lexi let it slip she loves soccer – presto – the whole men’s soccer team trouped in with sweatshirts, soccer balls and happy eagerness to help. Then the softball team, the men’s and women’s rowing team, the Christian Campus ministry started coming by, along with three sororities.

The soccer team even arranged for her to attend a game and the hospital’s medical team came along. “When we played, we kind of played with an extra edge,” said Chase Gasper, who has been deeply moved by Lexi’s grin and grit. “We really wanted to win for her … and we did.” He also said, “I have had a very blessed life, nothing comes close to what she is going through. She’s such a strong girl.”

But it was the SAEs that were there first and they fought hard for lucky Lexi’s affection. “When the first group of brothers got back from visiting Lexi, you could see that they were all glowing, knowing they had done something good for the community,” said chapter president Kevin Autran.

“It was contagious. And brothers stepped up to essentially go see her every day. Some would drop off a shirt or a teddy bear – others would want to hang out for hours with her,” he laughed.

Get this: Some even stayed past midnight, which violates a strict hospital policy that no one dared to enforce. One SAE taught her how to play a card game called ‘Speed,’ and she loved it, so much the guy would drop by every day for a quick game or two.

What is inconceivable is that the ailing 12-year-old, who had never played the game before, has yet to lose, while the guy who taught her is reputedly the best card shark in the fraternity house. Can you imagine that! Just amazing …

Unfortunately, Lexi hasn’t been so lucky in her cancer fight. Eighteen months ago she was diagnosed when a tumor was found in a muscle on her thigh. She underwent chemotherapy and radiation and there were no signs of cancer afterwards. Until this August.

Now the disease is in her lungs and just about everywhere else. Unbeknowst, the chemotherapy 18 months before had almost ruined her heart – after her hair and eyebrows turned white, she was air-lifted to UCLA and, when she was hospitalized, shocked doctors learned her damaged heart was at 15 percent usage. Now chemotherapy is too dangerous.

That said, she has “chaired” three different fundraising efforts for childhood cancer, she has spoken to the Santa Barbara Board of Supervisors to make every September as Childhood Cancer Awareness month, and is an official spokesperson for both the Santa Barbara Children’s Hospital and the Mattel Children’s Hospital.

Meanwhile, back at the fraternity house, a GoFundMe page has raised over $20,000 to help her family with their back-breaking expenses (her dad is a California Highway Patrolman) and would has spread among the brothers -- SAE chapters around the country are joining their UCLA brothers in a national SAE fund-raising effort.

“We are going through hell right now,” Lexi’s mother told NBC. “But we don’t treat Lexi any differently than her 14-year-old brother or these fraternity boys. I really give them all a hard time – we kid everybody -- and it has been such a joy in a time when we could have just sat there and cried but we didn’t,” Lis was forced to pause, “ … I can’t even tell you … I never knew that so many young people had it in them …”

Fraternity president Autran and his guys have been staying in touch with Lexi, who lives 150 miles away from LA in Santa Barbara. “We truly feel like Lexi and her parents are part of our family, and we want them to know that we will always be here for them.”

One more thing: It is a real big tradition with the SAEs at UCLA to hold the Christmas “Lighting” every year and just before Lexi was able to return home last week, several fraternity brothers went to her room and told her they wanted her to join them as the lights were turned on for the first time this 2015 season.

Understand, the SAE house has so many Christmas lights flipping the switch could cause a transformer somewhere to blow. So one of the brothers swooped her up in his arms while another turned the hospital room’s lights off. When they got to the window overlooking the SAE house, they texted by cell phone they were in place and Lexi, so excited, was ready!

You might need a Kleenex or two before you are ready … but when you are, scroll down and you’ll see the same thing Lexi Brown saw out of her hospital window last week …

The heart over Lexi's name actually 'beats' every three seconds!
The heart over Lexi's name actually 'beats' every three seconds!

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