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Mother, Son Overcome Obstacles of ‘Heroic’ Proportions with Boys Town North Florida’s Help

The ​dictionary defines a hero as “a person of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities.”

Betsy Fisher says her 14-year-old son Marshal is deserving of that title.

Marshal has overcome a lot since enduring a childhood that was turbulent and painful.

At age 7, he was removed from his biological parents due to neglect and physical abuse. His mother was a drug addict and was incapable of parenting. She was in and out of Marshal’s life during his many foster care placements and tried to regain custody on several occasions. But her parental rights were terminated in 2008.

In foster care, Marshal’s behavioral issues made it difficult for him to stay in one placement. He threw sometimes-violent tantrums, was physically and verbally aggressive toward others and destroyed property.

A turning point occurred in 2010 when Betsy began working as Marshal’s mentor. For the next two years, Betsy was a constant in Marshal’s life and their friendship grew. However, Marshal was reluctant to fully invest in this new relationship because he had been disappointed so many times in the past by the very people who were supposed to be caring for him.

Even with the strong bond that was developing between Marshal and Betsy, Marshal still needed help to deal with his aggressive behaviors and his past. And he would eventually need a permanent home.

That’s when Boys Town North Florida entered the picture.

In 2012, Tonia Westerfield, Family Home Program Director for Boys Town North Florida, received a request to place Marshal, then 11, in one of the site’s Family Homes. “Typically we would not have taken a child with his level of behavioral issues and as young as he was,” Westerfield said. “But the only way for Marshal to remain in the county to have continued visits with Betsy and his therapist was for him to live in one of our Family Homes.  If Marshal would have moved out of the county, he would have lost his support.”

With Marshal now safe as part of a Boys Town family, Betsy was able to continue to visit him and provide support. Marshal’s behaviors improved over his nine months with Boys Town, and when he left, he moved in with Betsy.

Betsy had decided to adopt the boy to whom she had grown so close.

Boys Town In-Home Family Services® continued to help, working with Betsy and Marshal several weeks as Marshal transitioned into his new home.

Sara Soria, their Boys Town Consultant, said Betsy’s relationship with Marshal was a blessing, especially with what happened shortly after Marshal’s adoption was finalized.

Just as they were beginning their lives together, Marshal was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer that most commonly affects children. He immediately began chemotherapy, but in the summer of 2014, his right leg was amputated below the knee and he was confined to a wheelchair.

Marshal’s illness brought on many changes for him and Betsy. Marshal had to withdraw from public school and begin homeschooling. Betsy switched from full-time to part-time at her job as a high school psychology teacher so she could care for Marshal. As a result, the family’s income was reduced, creating some financial hardships.

Again, Boys Town North Florida was there to help.

Soria assisted Betsy in trying to get subsidies for Marshal’s care, as well as doing what she could to make the family’s life just a little bit easier.

“Betsy needs around-the-clock help with Marshal,” Soria said. “He is a special needs child who will need assistance his whole life. The most important thing is continuing support and services for this family.”

Betsy said she can’t thank Boys Town North Florida enough for its help as she and Marshal continue their journey together.

“The bond between us continues to grow stronger,” Betsy said. “Marshal is my little ‘hero.’ He is a survivor in so many ways. We are learning from one another and loving one another. We can do this!”

Soria said despite the setback Betsy and Marshal faced with Marshal’s illness, they were fortunate to have each other when it happened.

“The beautiful thing is that when Marshal was diagnosed with cancer, he was in his forever home and with a mother who was committed to him,” Soria said. “Thank God he is with Betsy and not in the system. He has the love of someone to be with him forever.”

Marshal now realizes that even with all of his medical issues, Betsy is not going anywhere. As mother and son face their future, they do so with perseverance, dedication and love.

And Marshal the hero has a hero of his own to look up to.