Teacher fighting leukemia receives support through #OBrienStrong campaign

St. Simon the Apostle students get behind teacher

INDIANAPOLIS - Inspired by the success of the "ChuckStrong" movement supporting Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano, students at St. Simon the Apostle Catholic School are supporting someone very special to them.

They knew the story of Pagano’s cancer battle well. It’s no surprise that some of the students are pint-sized fans of the Colts.

So, when the school’s physical education teacher, Kerry O’Brien, was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia last fall, they knew just what to do.


Maggie Gallagher, an eighth-grader, told RTV6 she’s known O’Brien for the majority of her life. In fact, she couldn’t hold back her tears while talking about O’Brien’s recent health concerns.

“He's been there since kindergarten for me, and he means a lot to me,” she explained.

O’Brien means so much to her and a group of four other eighth grade girls; they created a bracelet to honor O’Brien. It’s orange, rubbery and costs $2. However, when you look close, it's obvious the wristlet’s meaning is invaluable. It reads, “#OBrienStrong.”

The students used that hashtag frequently when talking about O’Brien on Twitter and Instagram last fall.

“I wear it every day. I never take it off,” Gallagher said.

She’s worn her bracelet for the better part of three months.

“I think that if I wear it every day and then I pray every day, maybe he'll hopefully get better,” she explained.

P.E. Strong

The students’ efforts didn’t stop at bracelets. Principal Donavan Yarnall made a special exception for the school’s gym uniform.

The kids are allowed to wear shirts that read, “P.E. Strong” to gym class. In fact, 375 students wear that shirt proudly to the gymnasium each week for P.E. class.

”Kerry is a great guy, I'm glad we could support him,” Yarnall said.

Katie Meek designed the shirt.

“It makes you feel like you're part of something that's part of a bigger idea,” she said.

Meek derived her idea from the ChuckStrong campaign. She is a fan of the Colts and an even bigger fan of her P.E. teacher.

“People are kind. People will rally when the chips are down, and it's been proven here,” said Kerry O’Brien. “I've always had a very good relationship with the students here, but it's just taken it to a whole new level. They're just so supportive, so kind.”

The money collected from all T-shirt and bracelet sales was donated to the O’Brien family.  It’s helped O’Brien, his wife and two children, navigate his treatment a little easier.

“Not only spiritual support but emotional support, and being part of a family, is what Catholic education is all about,” said Yarnall.

For more resources on leukemia and lymphoma click http://www.lls.org/aboutlls/chapters/in/

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