Thomas Jeffery Chandler was just 6 months old when he died, but already had lived long enough to unite a community.
More than 150 people rallied around his mother, Noelle Chandler, on Saturday night, holding colorful balloons inscribed with messages of support and love and electric candles that filled Bob Hart Square on Main Street in Merced.
Baby Thomas passed away Friday morning because of a rare heart condition, Chandler said Stanford doctors told her. Thomas’ twin brother, Elijah, doesn’t share his brother’s condition, she said.
“I’ve been struggling living in a family of three and a mother of one” Chandler told her crowd of supporters.
After a short prayer and moment of silence, hundreds of balloons were released into the sky above downtown Merced in honor of Thomas’ life.
The events leading to Thomas’ passing all took place within a week, Chandler’s sister, Carol Wilson, said. Thomas had a lot of inflammation in his face and all over his body, she said, and her sister could tell the baby looked uncomfortable.
After Chandler took Thomas to a cardiologist, Wilson said, he was transferred to a Madera hospital and then finally to Stanford, where they found out he had a congenital heart condition.
The doctors found a mass in his abdomen, Wilson said, and discovered he was born with these conditions.
“He would of had it no matter what,” Wilson said. “There was nothing they could do.”
Soon after, the doctors took the mass completely out, she said, but his other organs could not be stabilized.
“His heart was failing,” Wilson said. “That’s when they knew that was it.”
Wilson, a 31-year-old Los Angeles resident, came to be with her sister and family Friday and said the turnout for Thomas’ memorial didn’t surprise her at all. Chandler is the education director for Playhouse Merced and is known by many people in the community, she said.
“Noelle is very prominent in the theater community,” Wilson said. “Many people here have been taught by her.”
Myisha Reed, 37, attended the memorial Saturday night and said her daughter has taken classes with Chandler.
“Noelle just does so much for people in the community,” Reed said. “It feels really important to be here and support her family.”
Reed said seeing all the community support has been “really beautiful” and her story has been followed by people all over the country.
Chandler has been chronicling the story of her son on a Facebook page called Thomas Strong, with many posts having close to 100 or more shares and likes. The hashtag #thomasstrong has been a trending search by thousands.
“It shows what a tightly knit community we are,” Reed said. “She can see there’s people there for her and her family.”
A GoFundMe account has been made by friends, www.gofundme.com/support-the-chandler-family, and had raised more than $28,000 as of Sunday night for medical expenses.
Although it’s been a difficult journey, the Facebook responses have been “amazing,” Chandler said. Although now she only has one-half of her “set of rainbow babies,” Thomas’ story has been able to unite a community.
“There is no doubt in my mind that Thomas was supposed to do this,” Chandler said.
Monica Velez: 209-385-2486