Andover Townsman, Andover, MA


November 11, 2009

Tragedy to triumph, and a special playground

When her infant son was unresponsive at feeding time one June day in 2007, Stephanie (Chechik) McElligott quickly packed up Ronan and drove to Lowell General Hospital.

Over 9 pounds at birth, little Ronan was a good eater so his behavior was alarming. Doctors were just as puzzled as McElligott, a Westford mom who grew up in Andover. After a helicopter ride to a Boston hospital, Stephanie and her husband Steve were bedside for weeks waiting to learn what was wrong with their baby.

Sadly, Ronan would never respond. He was on life support for seven weeks until the heartbreaking decision to disconnect him was made.

Ronan McElligott was just 5 months old when he died on Aug. 31, 2007. He died of Leigh's disease, a very rare genetic disorder. He also left behind his big sister, Brynn, now 5.

While such events can tear some families apart, the McElligotts came together to raise around $280,000 to build a playground for children with the disabilities that Ronan would have faced if he had lived.

Ronan's grandparents, the Chechiks, lived on Farrwood Drive for 35 years. Paula Chechik and her husband, Howard, downsized about five years ago and now live in North Chelmsford. They will help to dedicate the new playground for special needs children in Westford this weekend.

"I'll never forget Stephanie's call. She said, 'I want to build a playground in Ronan's memory. You in?'" Paula Chechik said. "Steph is very determined."

Despite being close to 80, these grandparents were definitely in, along with scores of other family members, friends, neighbors and co-workers. In just 18 months, the money was collected.

Stephanie McElligott, who graduated from Pike School, then Andover High School in 1988, and then the University of New Hampshire, said she and her husband - who are expecting twins in late January - chose a playground because "we realized that if Ronan lived, there was nothing he could have enjoyed at our playground. His disease was very progressive so he didn't live past infancy, but children who live a little longer with Leigh's disease do typically suffer significant disabilities. It really opened our eyes to challenges children and families with disabilities face.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
  • 140415_AT_ASW_DAY_2

    AMY SWEENEY/Staff photo Leila Aruri and Police Chief Patrick Keefe learn a little bit about each other at Memorial Hall Library during the introductions for last week's Youth in Town Government Day. Thirteen students from Andover High School shadowed local officials as part of the third annual day sponsored by the Andover/North Andover League of Women Voters. Story, more photos, Page 16.

    Youth in Town Government Day offers insider's perspective on town's leaders Posted 31 minutes ago 5 Photos
  • 140419_et_tje_animalday_02

    TIM JEAN/Staff photo Briana Davis, 11, says hello to Emmett, 3, a pit bull up for adoption at Underdog ResQ in Framingham, during Animal Rights Day activities.

    Animal Attractions Posted 31 minutes ago 6 Photos

    Mary Montbleau

    A salute to community service; Andover Chamber to recognize efforts of 3 honorees Posted 31 minutes ago 2 Photos

    TORY GERMANN FOR UMASS LOWELL/Courtesy Photo Louis Coiro of Andover was honored by UMass Lowell at its University Alumni Awards last week. The 1982 graduate of the university owns Tewksbury Physical Therapy and Drum Hill Physical and Sports Therapy in Chelmsford.

    Local man wins UMass Lowell Alumni Award Posted 31 minutes ago 2 Photos
  • Rotary Club to honor Andover's unsung heroes Posted 7 days ago

    STEVE COTTON/Courtesy photo A team from Aquatic Control Technology applies herbicide to Foster's Pond in 2011 as part of the Foster Pond Corp.'s continuing efforts to combat invasive weeds there. Aquatic biologist Marc Bellaud, who is at the controls of the 18-foot airboat, is the featured speaker at the group's 75th birthday commemoration on April 29.

    Turning 75, Foster's Pond Corp. looks to the future Posted 7 days ago 2 Photos
  • YMCA2

    RYAN HUTTON/Staff photos Lina and Enzo Fossella, of Andover, pose with Merrimack Valley YMCA CEO Steve Ives, center, at the 23rd annual auction fundraiser for the Merrimack Valley YMCA.

    Lending support for the Merrimack Valley YMCA Posted 7 days ago 2 Photos
  • Thursday, April 10, 2014

    Courtesy Photo Boy Scout Troop 76 based at Ballard Vale Church in Andover traveled to Mt. Cranmore last month for its annual Ski Trip.

    Ski trip for Troop 76 Boy Scouts Posted 14 days ago 2 Photos
  • Kiwanis Club readies annual charitable Feast Posted 14 days ago
  • GREEK2

    Courtesy photo The students from Greek Language School of Andover demonstrate a traditional dance at Sts. Constantine and Helen Church during a program commemorating the 1821 Greek War of Independence.

    Celebration of Greek independence Posted 14 days ago 2 Photos

Pictures of the Week