Fort Pierce family packing up large family to be closer to son with rare disease

FORT PIERCE, Fla. – A Treasure Coast family is willing to uproot their entire life to be with their little boy fighting a rare disease.

Max Lewis suffers from a rare autoimmune disease, causing countless infections in his body. As a children’s hospital in Orlando works to save him, his family is doing everything they can to be near him.

Most of Max’s short life have been a fight to survive.

“It’s traumatizing to see your child go through this sort of thing,” said Max’s mother, Jillian Lewis.

The two-year-old has been in and out of hospitals since three months old, battling infections and pneumonia. He visited several hospitals across South Florida from Joe Dimagio Children’s Hospital in Fort Lauderdale for a spinal tap and tests, to Lawnwood Regional in Fort Pierce for hip surgery to treat an infection and pneumonia.

“It was really emotional, really difficult because we don’t have answers,” said Craig Lewis, Max’s father. “He doesn’t talk, he can’t tell us what’s wrong with him.”

Recently, the family took a trip to the Kissimmee area but it had to be cut short because Max wouldn’t eat. He also had a high fever and a sudden infection on his knee. He was rushed Nemours Children’s Hospital in Orlando.

“We’re wondering if his immune system is not up to snuff,” said Dr. Kenneth Alexander, Chief of Infectious Diseases at Nemours. “Any time you’ve got a child as complicated as Max, you’ve got a lot of people involved. When Max came to us, he was critically ill. He could’ve easily died from the infections that he had.”

Dr. Alexander said Mac suffers from three problems that created a domino effect on his immune system. With a weakened system, he developed an infection from the bacteria, streptococcus pneumoniae. From there, doctors say he became diagnosed with atypical HUS. It’s a rare condition that causes the blood cells to destroy each other as they move through his body.

“Sorting out an immune problem during an immune infection is very difficult. It’s a little bit like playing chess during an earthquake, everything is moving and shaking,” said Dr. Alexander. “We he came in, we thought ‘my heavens, this is a young man that’s been in the hospital now five times. We’ve got work to do.’”

With a collapsed lung and other complications from the infection, the next step for doctors is to get him stabilized. There are kidney doctors, immunology doctors and other specialists assembled to help Max.

“We’ll begin to pick apart his immune system to see if we can identify where the problem is,” said Dr. Alexander.

But Max’s family lives and works in Fort Pierce. They’ve been making the drive to stay close to the hospital and have had to make the sudden decision to pack up the family and move to Orlando. It won’t be easy — the Lewis’ have seven young children total.

“I feel really comforted knowing that he’s getting best care possible here,” said Jillian. “We’re trying to focus on getting him better so we can be together again.”

Despite the bandages and machines, Max is still in good spirits. When WPTV visited him in Orlando Wednesday, he was happily eating lunch, watching Toy Story and playing with his stuffed animals and toy truck.

“I don’t think I would have that in me with all the pain and everything to still seem to find a smile,” said Jillian.

Right now, the only thing working to help max is a special drug called Soliris.

“Max is completely turned around. He took the medicine and within two hours he was sitting up smiling,” said Craig. “Last couple of days he’s been doing really great.”

It’s known by doctors as the most expensive drug in the world at $50,000 a dose. Luckily, the Lewis’ insurance was able to cover the first dose and the drug’s manufacturer is even donating a second dose to help Max.

“What happened to Max is kind of like dominoes,” said Dr. Alexander. “It’s as if his immune cascade got turned on and he began to self-destruct. What Soliris does is turn off that self-destructive auto-immune pathway. The problem is, it was invented for the treatment of a very rare disease and as a consequence, is very expensive.”

Dr. Alexander said the drug is saving his kidneys, preventing a possible kidney transplant and more issues in the future.

Max’s dad is now looking for work in Orlando. They hope to move as soon as next week.

“It’s very important that we stay close to this facility because they don’t want him to fall through the cracks again,” he said.

A GoFundMe account has been set up to help the family of nine move their life to Orlando, with hundreds across the Treasure Coast donating and sharing on social media.

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Customs checks out boat towed to shore in Fort Pierce –

FORT PIERCE, Fla. – A boat docked at the U.S. Coast Guard station in Fort Pierce was the object of intense law enforcement scrutiny Wednesday.

Witnesses describe that drugs, money and canisters of fuel where found on the boat.

Aerial shots of Chopper 5 showed what appeared to be U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers boarding the boat.

They were wearing protective gloves and were seen carefully searching the vessel.

The Coast Guard said it towed the boat to port but did not release any other information.

Seth Curphy does maintenance for Square Grouper in Fort Pierce every morning.

“This morning was little different,” Curphy said. “I saw some guys running across the field.”

He said he saw their boat tied up illegally.

“I went over there to see if they needed help,” Curphy said. “Maybe they thought the boat was broken. Went up to the boat and noticed it wasn’t broken, there was a lot of – what looked like – drugs on there.”

Soon after the Coast Guard, Fort Pierce Police and Homeland Security were all on scene.

A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesperson would only say in a statement that, “a Homeland Security Investigations-led law enforcement action was conducted with the support of state, local and federal law enforcement partners.” 

In Fort Pierce it was certainly the talk of the town on Wednesday.

“It’s just that everyone is local and everyone knows each other,” a Fort Pierce woman, who wanted to stay anonymous, said.

She said three suspicious men came into the store she works at.

“At first I didn’t think anything of it,” she said. “But they were asking how to get a taxi off of the island.”

It wasn’t until later, when police asked her if she had seen people with duffle bags, she got suspicious.

A witness said he saw 4 people onboard, but it’s unclear if they were detained.

Homeland Security called it an active investigation and said no further details could be released at this time.



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Man accused of trying to steal Fort Pierce Police patrol car –

FORT PIERCE, Fla. – Fort Pierce Police arrested Aaron Rodriguez after they say he tried to steal a police patrol vehicle parked outside of the police station.

An officer was sitting in his car on July 17 when he heard the rear and front passenger side door handles making noise, according to the arrest report.

When he opened his door, the officer said he saw Rodriguez run from his vehicle toward the back of the parking lot and hide behind another vehicle.

The officer, along with a second officer, arrested Rodriguez. They found two cellphones, a portable speaker, a $20 bill, and a small pipe with marijuana residue on him, the report states.

Rodriguez is charged with attempted grand theft of a motor vehicle, possessing drug equipment and loitering. He is being held at the St. Lucie County Jail on $15,000 bond.

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2 men shot, killed at Fort Pierce park

Two men died after being shot in Fort Pierce Sunday night.


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Fort Pierce not giving up hotel plans for downtown






Fort Pierce officials would like to partner with a developer to build a hotel on the 8-acre site of the former H.D. King Power Plant in the heart of downtown. KEONA GARDNER/TCPALM

FORT PIERCE — City officials hope by October to select a developer to redevelop the former H.D King site in downtown into a hotel.

The Fort Pierce Redevelopment Agency on Monday approved City Manager Nick Mimms’ autumn timetable to solicit requests from developers to build a hotel.

An informational meeting for prospective bidders is tentatively scheduled for Aug. 16 and all bids are due by Sept. 5, according to a draft copy of the request for proposals/qualifications.

The city plans to advertise the project in state, national and international development publications and websites to find the best possible proposal, Mimms said.

The city would retain ownership of the site and lease the land to a developer.

“We want someone who would follow the community’s hopes, wishes and dreams,” Mimms said.

During a community workshop last year, the public’s redevelopment preference was for a hotel there with retail on the ground floor.

A hotel would attract people to downtown who otherwise would stay in hotels near Interstate 95 or in Vero Beach and Port St. Lucie, according to a draft copy of the request for proposal/qualifications.

The second popular choice is for the city to contract out to build condos, townhomes or luxury apartments and have a small grocery store on the ground floor, according to city records.

The property is zoned light industrial but they support changing the zoning to whatever is needed to get hotel, according to city records.

This would be the city’s third attempt to develop the property.

A South Florida developer in 2010 scrapped a $90 million plan to build Atocha Village — shops, restaurants, homes and a hotel — after discovering the property would revert to the state if it is sold.

In 2014, a St. Petersburg group dropped its plan to build a hotel, 300 apartments, 55 townhouses and a four-story parking garage after opponents said it was out of character for downtown.

Fort Pierce Utilities Authority and the city have spent more than $4.2 million to remove more than 34,000 tons of contaminated soil.

The power plant was razed in 2008 to make way for newer developments. But the soil contained toxic chemicals, such as arsenic, lead and petroleum, as well as polychlorinated biphenyl, once used in transformers but now known as a carcinogen.

FPUA paid $2.4 million of the cleanup cost, the city used $600,000 in grants and the Fort Pierce Redevelopment Agency borrowed $1.7 million from the federal government to help fund the project.

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Still no arrests in Fort Pierce deadly double shooting, police hope witnesses will come forward

FORT PIERCE, Fla. – Police have not made any arrests after a deadly double shooting in Fort Pierce on Sunday night.

Police say Diamond Kendrick and Tovarius Thompson were shot and killed at Lincoln Park Regional Park Sunday evening.

Now, detectives are urging the community to come forward with information critical for solving the crime.

The officers who responded to Sunday’s crime scene were back on the road Monday night.

On Sunday, they were tasked with preserving the crime scene, collecting evidence and finding witnesses. Officers also tried to save the victims.

Monday, they were focused on solving the crime and making an arrest.

During the roll call meeting Monday, Lt. Caleb Gillette thanked officers for their efforts.

“Thank you for your hard work last night and professionalism out there. I know the scene was chaotic when you guys were out there,” Gillette said.
He left the officers with specific orders.

“While we’re out there, take every opportunity you can to identify suspicious persons, meeting with neighbors and community members,” Gillette said. And if anyone is afraid to speak to officers, he told the officers to encourage anyone to call crime stoppers to make an anonymous tip.

“Hopefully we can resolve this crime,” Gillette said.

Police Monday night also increased patrols in the area of Avenue O and 13th Street, where the shooting happened.

It was a welcome sight for Michael Thomas, who likes to play basketball on the courts at the park.
“It’s just sad, I can’t believe, I still can’t believe it,” Thomas said.

He was playing basketball with some children and teenagers Sunday evening, but left before the gunfire erupted.

Because of that, he had his eye on more than the ball Monday night.
“You’ve gotta constantly be looking over your shoulder.”
He will feel better about returning to the court once he knows the shooter is behind bars.

“They should turn themselves in. They’d be doing themselves a favor and the city of Fort Pierce a favor.”


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Is fear driving medical marijuana concerns in Fort Pierce? | Trending






Hazy about medical marijuana laws in Florida? TCPalm rolls out the basics for you. LISA BROADT/TCPALM

Some officials in Fort Pierce are worried about their city. But we’re wondering if they aren’t worrying about the wrong things.

Specifically, some officials are thinking about banning medical marijuana dispensaries because they’re concerned dispensaries could move into troubled neighborhoods and make things worse.

Commissioners Rufus Alexander and Reggie Sessions, who represent lower-income parts of Fort Pierce, say their constituents have enough problems without medical marijuana.

“We are reeling from crack cocaine,” Alexander has said. “The city of Fort Pierce has been labeled or targeted the worst of the worst. Why would we want to label ourselves as a medical marijuana dispensary?”

The city commission will host a workshop later this summer on the issue. Last fall, some 65 percent of city residents — and 70 percent of St. Lucie County residents — voted “yes” on Amendment 2, which legalized the use of medical marijuana for medicinal purposes.

We’re seeing this time and again throughout Florida, public officials who think the public was wrong to approve Amendment 2, and who seek to thwart its implementation — if not statewide, then in their own communities.

This isn’t to minimize the root of the concern expressed by Alexander and Sessions. Yes, Fort Pierce has a drug problem, which has led to a violence problem. Police say there have actually been fewer shootings than average this year in the city. But that’s cold comfort when you hear gunfire in the night.

So it’s natural to worry about things that could make it worse — either the actual violence, or the perception that the city is a less-than-law abiding place.

But caution is one thing; fear is another.

There persists, in the mind of many public officials, this idea that dispensaries are tantamount to drug houses, the latest iteration of the “pill mills” that bedeviled Florida. As if zonked-out stoners will be hanging around out front smoking joints, selling dope to minors and terrorizing law-abiding citizens.

Advocates — and now the state itself — say that’s not going to be the case at all.

Instead, new state rules require that dispensaries be treated like pharmacies. Both are, simply, places where sick people go to get medicine. So while cities retain the right to ban dispensaries, if they opt not to they may not limit the number of dispensaries. And wherever zoning permits a pharmacy, it must also permit a dispensary.

Convinced that the two remain very different things, some city officials around Florida are beginning to balk. Coral Gables, for example, has passed a citywide ban on shops selling medical marijuana, with city officials saying that whatever Florida law may say, federal law still deems marijuana a Schedule I narcotic.

That’s true, though it’s also a dodge. Coral Gables councilman Vince Lago gave it away when he suggested that permitting dispensaries could impact “the quality of life of our residents.”

“My biggest fear is that this could spiral out of control,” said Lago, who most likely would never say the same thing about a new Walgreens opening down the street.

Coral Gables and Fort Pierce are different cities, but Lago obviously worries about the same thing that concerns Alexander and Sessions.

Maybe it was inevitable; maybe the idea of marijuana as medication rather than intoxicant is still too new, at least in Florida. Maybe our history with pill mills gives public officials reason to be extra cautious. Maybe in places like Fort Pierce, where neighborhoods already hang in the balance, Sessions and Alexander are wise to suggest that the mere possibility dispensaries could cause problems should keep them out — at least for now.

But should the city ban dispensaries it may have the effect of denying legitimate medication to city residents who would benefit from it and may have no other way to obtain it.

Prudence is one thing. But fear rooted in this notion that medical marijuana and recreational pot are basically the same thing is no way to craft public policy — in Fort Pierce, or anywhere else.

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Two people shot, killed in Fort Pierce

Two men were shot at a park in Fort Pierce Sunday night.


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2 victims identified in Fort Pierce double homicide –

FORT PIERCE, Fla. – Two men are dead after a shooting at a park in Fort Pierce Sunday night.

Detectives said it happened just around 7:45 p.m. at Lincoln Park Regional Park at 13th Street and Avenue O.

Police said there was a big party or gathering going on at the park at the time of the shooting.

Police are asking anyone with information to come forward.

“A lot of people were out here, but they haven’t come forward to us yet,” says Ed Cunningham with the Fort Pierce Police Department.

Police said the victims were Fort Pierce residents Diamond Kindrick, 30, and Torvarius Thompson, 31. Both men were transported to Lawnwood Regional Medical Center, where both died of their injuries.

Detectives are working to determine the details of the shooting, as well as the motive and the suspects, which have been described as two black men.

Anyone with information is asked to call 911 or Treasure Coast Crime Stoppers at (800) 273-8477.

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Feeding Frenzy at St. Lucie County Aquarium in Fort Pierce – TCPalm

Feeding Frenzy at St. Lucie County Aquarium in Fort Pierce

Jason Velez, 2, (bottom) of Fort Pierce, and Violet Noe, 6, of Grandville Massachusetts, watch fish food trickle down as Hannah Spohn, education intern at Smithsonian Marine Station, discusses the sea life in tank 5, nearshore reef ecosystem aquarium, during the Feeding Frenzy event Thursday, July 13, at the St. Lucie County Aquarium, 420 Seaway Drive in Fort Pierce. The daily feeding event, at 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. is a guided tour of the feeding of the sea life in the Smithsonian Marine Ecosystems Exhibit tanks. “We go around through all of our main exhibits and explain what is happening in each tank as the fish are eating,” Spohn said. “Almost all or our tanks are local so it’s really good for people that are visiting our aquarium to see all of the fish and species that are in their backyard.” The aquarium is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, closed Mondays.

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