BY ANNE STANTON
TRAVERSE CITY — Matthew Litchfield was born into the world with a tiny body and a giant spirit.
Now the Traverse City youngster, 8, faces the biggest challenge of his life — treatment for an aggressive brain tumor that will put his 21-pound body to an incredible test.
Friends and family are on his side, including Rob Humphrey, who organized a Dec. 16 fundraiser that will feature an original comic book of Star Wars characters.
"He's a fighter, that kid," Humphrey said. "And he does it with a big smile."
Matthew is afflicted with primordial dwarfism, an extremely rare genetic disease in which children are very small from the beginning of life. Matthew isn't expected to grow any taller than his three-foot stature, Humphrey said.
Humphrey's connection to Matthew and his father Bryan goes back two years when they met at Cherry Capital Con, a Traverse City-based comic book convention, which he helps organizes.
A nonprofit group reached out to Humphrey to see if Cherry Capital Con could do something special for Matthew, a Star Wars fan.
"We jumped in," said Humphrey. "Matthew had a great day and was all smiles, from ear to ear."
Humphrey thought sketches of Star Wars heroes would cheer up Matthew, so he reached out to dozens of comic book artists, including Tony Moore, the original artist on the AMC Walking Dead comic book series. When Moore and 29 other artists stepped forward, Humphrey decided to create a comic book.
He connected with LucasFilm, which agreed to allow publication of the licensed characters.
"These artists so willingly gave of their talent, and now they're getting looked at by a company they'd love to work for," Humphrey said.
Meanwhile, another friend, Rhonda Miller, posted a fundraising plea on www.gofundme.com.
Humphrey learned of Matthew's tumor from Byran's Facebook post.
On Halloween day, a teacher called to report something was wrong with Matthew. The Central Grade School third grader was throwing up and dizzy. His parents took him to Munson Medical Center where he was examined, and sent to C.S. Mott Children's Hospital in Ann Arbor by ambulance.
The next morning, the neurologist told the Lichtfields that Matthew's tumor had to be removed immediately, Bryan said.
Doctors couldn't remove the last 5 percent of the tumor on the brain stem without risking serious damage.
A biopsy revealed Matthew has a malignant tumor. He's been given a 50 percent chance of survival, Bryan said.
Heather, his mom, said she never expected a full life for Matthew, who already had experienced significant health problems.
"We were prepared for something, but this was way too early," she said in a phone interview from Ann Arbor.
Bryan quit his job at the Village Press to care for Matthew, while Heather continues to work as a pharmacist at Munson. Matthew also has a sister, Jessica, 11.
"One of our big fears is how he'll tolerate the treatments," Bryan said. "They're hard enough to deal with in a healthy person, but Matthew can't afford to lose a single pound. He's a really frail individual because of his size."
Jessica said she is very grateful for friends and family.
"Traverse City is an amazing place to be and live," she said. "We have to pull through for him because he's the best little guy."