Encountering Jesus

Family of St. Pius X/St. Leo student who lost battle with brain cancer pays kindnesses forward

Jimmy Moran would be as excited about a trip to the gas station as to Disney World. Loud and loving, Jimmy and his group of friends at St. Pius X/St. Leo School in Omaha stuck together and often had to be told to quiet down.

“He got in trouble a lot in school but for funny stuff,” said his mom, Pam. “It’s one of those things where the teachers would send a note home and you would have to hide your laughter because it was hilarious.”

Jimmy’s former kindergarten teacher, Kelli Swift, said there was always something special about Jimmy.

“Every single day of kindergarten you could just tell he had a love for life,” Swift said. “He would run down the ramp toward our classroom with a funny grin on his face and curly hair that was always bouncing. His infectious love for life made everyone around him happier.”

Moran said that while her son “was not an angel by any means, he was loving. He loved to hug. He was the sweetest. When someone sneezed or coughed, he would be the first to say, ‘God bless you, are you ok?'”

Swift, who is also a friend of the Moran family, said Jimmy lit up the classroom.

“He was the most joyful, joyful kid,” she said. “He was such a smart kid. He had the best imagination. He had so much energy and was so much fun, and he kept me on my toes in the best way.”

Energetic and enthusiastic was how Moran would describe her son before he was diagnosed in fourth grade with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG), an aggressive type of childhood cancer that forms in the brainstem. There is no cure for DIPG, and once diagnosed, patients usually die within a year. Jimmy died on Sept. 2, 2022, at the age of 10, about nine months after he was diagnosed.

Jimmy and his beloved dog, Butter. COURTESY PHOTO

Moran said that following his diagnosis, her son was “just as wonderful” but different.

“He would never ask if he was going to die,” Moran said. “He would express concerns. Sometimes he’d say, ‘I’m worried I’m not going to get better,’ and we would tell him, ‘Jimmy, we’re at the Mayo Clinic and the doctors have all these treatments they’re going to try.’ And he’d always say, ‘Oh, thank you. I feel so much better now.'”

When the family would play board games, Jimmy, who had lost function and mobility on the right side of his body, would try to use his right hand.

“He had such perseverance and would try so hard to use his weak hand,” Moran said.

Jimmy loved baseball but could no longer play. He eventually could not play video games, either, as he got weaker. His mom said that his favorite part of Mass was the Eucharist, but once he got sick, he wasn’t able to go to Mass regularly.

“He was just like a little saint,” Moran said. “He handled everything so much better than anybody I could have known. He was going through such adversity, and he never complained.”

Swift believes Jimmy’s bravery in carrying his cross following his diagnosis profoundly affected others. “I think he taught his friends to never give up and never stop fighting. He fought the fight with such grace and dignity, and he never complained.”

She credits Jimmy with teaching students at his school important lessons about how to show Christ’s love for others through their actions, which they did – praying for Jimmy every day at school, visiting him and holding drive-by parades by his house when he was too sick to come to school.

Jimmy’s friends and classmates still work to honor him by spreading awareness of pediatric brain cancer and raising money through dress-down days at school and other events.

“His friends are learning to share and show God’s love to do good things for others because that’s what Jimmy did,” Swift said.

Swift is not surprised by the degree to which his classmates and the entire St. Pius/St. Leo community embraced Jimmy and his family.

“I can’t stress enough how important the community at St. Pius/St. Leo was,” she said. “All the ways that they supported the family. The teachers, the students. I’ve been there 22 years, and it is such a tight-knit community.”

For her part, Moran admits that she was humbled and even a bit shocked at how many people reached out to their family when Jimmy was sick, including those whom they had never met.

“Oh boy, they rallied around us in the best way,” she said. “They did so much, and I felt like we were undeserving of it, but oh my goodness, they were amazing. You feel undeserving, but you just have to pay it forward. It’s the only thing we can do.”

The prayers, love and support didn’t end at the parish boundaries.

“It wasn’t just the Pius and St. Leo community,” she said. “It was all the parishes in Omaha. We would get letters from the sisters at Marian (High School) because somebody had told them about Jimmy, and they were praying for him. And the Duchesne (Academy of the Sacred Heart) girls. A friend of mine whose daughter went to Duchesne said, ‘Oh yeah, the girls were at Mass and they prayed for Jimmy.’”

Moran said she doesn’t believe the family – which includes Jimmy’s father, Nick, and older sister, CeCe – would have made it through the past few years without that support.

Jimmy and his mom, Pam. COURTESY PHOTO

To honor Jimmy and continue to pay forward all the support they have received, the family has begun raising money for pediatric brain cancer research through the Nebraska (Jimmy the Great) Chapter of The Cure Starts Now. A carnival-themed fundraiser will be held on April 13 at The Admiral Theater in Omaha. All proceeds from the event will fund pediatric brain cancer research. Details on the event can be found here.

Moran said Swift has been working tirelessly on the fundraiser – another example of people lifting the family up as they struggle with their overwhelming grief.

“She’s the one who keeps Nick and me moving forward with all her work. She gave us a focus,” Moran said. “She’s dragging us behind her. Thank God for that. I told her, ‘I feel terrible because you’re doing so much and I’m not pulling my weight.’ Her husband is so sweet; he said to me, ‘You know, this is helping Kelli through her grief as well.'”


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