ROANOKE COUNTY, Va. – A 17-year-old is in the fight of his life, after an annual checkup took a dramatic turn.
"Nothing was wrong. I was just fine, going to school, seeing my friends and then all of a sudden, just boom, like, everything happened all at once," Northside High School student Eli Klepper said.
A few weeks ago, Eli went for a routine checkup at an eye doctor. When his eyes were dilated, the doctor noticed his optic nerves were enlarged, indicating something was putting pressure on them. He was then referred for an MRI, which confirmed he had a brain tumor.
Eli's first surgery to remove the tumor was cut short after he temporarily lost motor function on his right side. The complication amplified the fear of a second surgery to fully remove the tumor.
"Eli was sitting there and said, 'Let's do this,' and we knew that was the answer, that if he was confident and had the faith, then we had to stick with it," Eli's mom Leslie Klepper said.
Those three words, "Let's do this," turned into a rallying cry for friends and family members coming to support Eli, dubbing themselves #EliStrong. The group has made bracelets and shirts, and even gathered outside the hospital during Eli's surgery to pray.
"We were prepared for the worst. I've seen the worst," Leslie said.
It was a nightmare scenario for his mother, who works as a therapist in the pediatric intensive care unit at Carilion. That's exactly where her son ended up to fight for his life.
The Klepper's credit their faith and incredible community support for getting them through this unimaginable time.
"It has kept us from thinking worst case scenario," Eli's father Willie Klepper said. "We believe that God has a plan for everybody. This is his story."
"It's so easy to stay positive with the friends and family I have around me," Eli said.
Eli has been home since Thursday after surgery the Sunday before. He'll be out of school for at least a few months while he undergoes therapy to help with motor skills, balance and coordination.
What lies ahead is still unknown, as the Kleppers await pathology results on Eli's tumor that they're expecting this week. But for the high schooler who's passionate about baseball, the family has its sights set on spring.
"I have a feeling that I'll jump right back into it," Eli said.
Click here to help the Klepper family with medical expenses.