Local students and school staff have donated thousands of dollars to help Connor McKemey.
Last week, a Fort Mill High School fundraiser, dubbed "Coins for Connor," netted $5,641 to help the Tega Cay teen, who suffered burns on more than 85 percent of his body after an outdoor fireplace erupted in December.
"Wow! That's amazing," a shocked Karin McKemey, Connor's mom, said Monday as she sat in a waiting room at the Joseph M. Still Burn Center in Augusta, Ga. "I'm going to cry."
Students and staff raised the money during a four-day period that ended last Friday. Later Friday evening, during a basketball game, Nation Ford High School donated a check for approximately $1,500 to help Connor. Both donations floored McKemey.
"It's overwhelming," she said. "I shouldn't be surprised, but I am. We have such a great community. They're just amazing."
The original "Coins for Connor" campaign was started in Baxter Village by resident Paige Williams. She said other neighborhoods joined in and by Jan. 24, approximately $12,700 was raised with more coming in.
Doctors recently took Connor off a ventilator and feeding tube, allowing the 13-year-old to speak to his family for the first time in months. He also sat along the side of his hospital bed and tried some food, Karin McKemey said.
"We've had a rough 30 hours," said McKemey, who added that Connor's body initially rejected food. "He was not able to hold down anything for 48 hours so they had to redo the feeding tube."
Connor, on Sunday night, held down food via the feeding tube, she said.
"He kinda' took a dip, but we've turned a corner," she said. "We were able to give him a couple sips of apple juice this (Monday) morning. We have to take it really slow with him."
Connor has had more than a dozen surgeries and is facing a long recovery that includes a grafting surgery slated for later this month to both lower legs and feet. Still, Connor's recent progress, coupled with the donations, has been a lot for his mom, who was also injured in the fire, to absorb.
"I can't even wrap my mind around it all," she said. "I can't help but feel incredibly blessed."
Back in Fort Mill, school officials and students said it was their duty to rally behind Connor because his mother teaches at the school, where Connor's older brother, Tripp, is a sophomore.
"We needed to support the McKemeys because they are part of our school," said student body President Ashlyn Ramsey.
"I heard one teacher say, 'Give from your heart,'" teacher Bethann Rohaly said.
And students and staff did, raising more than $5,600. Donations accepted this week will be added before the money is turned over to a fund for Connor, Gales Scroggs, a U.S. history teacher, said.
"We're absolutely astonished by what they were able to pull off in such a short amount of time," said Scroggs, who added most fundraisers are supported by a select few.
But, "Funds were collected from everybody," he said. "This is the first time in my professional career that I've seen an entire school community come together for something like this."
For 18-year-old Corinne Jones, donating pocket change was a way of giving back.
"It's really hard on their family right now," Jones said of the McKemeys. "I just wanted to help the family, especially since Karin has helped me so much."
The endeavor means that Dee Christopher, the principal, must make good on a promise, Scroggs said.
"The principal said if we raised over $5,000 he'd either kiss a pig or be duct taped to a wall," Scroggs said. "I think the students decided to duct tape him to the wall."