Plympton-Wyoming farmer plants sunflowers to honour Max


The six rolling acres of sunflowers in front of Brian Schoonjans’ Douglas Line home remind him of Max Rombouts.
Max was two and the son of one of his seed customers, Kevin and Jamie Rombouts. Just days after he was born, doctors found out the little boy had leukemia. There was treatment for more than a year and it appeared Max would make it through a bone marrow transplant. But just before he was ready to leave isolation, doctors told the Rombouts the cancer had returned and there was nothing more that could be done.
The family, their friends and the community that rallied around Max were devastated by the news but they set out to make his life as good as possible for the time he had left.
Jamie Rombouts says the little boy lived to be outside. “It could have been the coldest day and Max still wanted to be outside. That was his happy place, from minute he woke up to moment he went to bed.”
Dad, Kevin, says he was happiest toddling around, getting the family Great Dane to shake a paw, and wandering off again pushing his stroller.
And he loved getting out in the fields with his dad on either the tractor or the ATV.
Schoonjans watched all this, knowing how difficult a journey this was for the family. He hatched a plan and sat down at the kitchen table with the Rombouts in February. He asked their permission to plant sunflowers for Max in the six acres in front of his home. It hadn’t been used for much more than a dirt bike track in the last few years.
Schoonjans wanted Max to help plant the field and then, in the summer, he would open it up to the public to take photos and pick bouquets and leave a donation to a charity of the Rombouts choice.
“When Brian came to the kitchen table, we were blown away that someone would put so much time and thought into organizing something for Max. We were 100 per cent on board,” says Jamie.
But the spring was wet and Max grew weaker. In May, he lost his fight to cancer. The Rombouts said goodbye to their Miracle Max as neighbours planted their fields in the cold, wet weather.
Schoonjans had not forgotten his plan and even though cattails grew in parts of the soggy field, he got to work. “We didn’t give up. I got the seeds and started planting it. Then it turned out to be so dry (in the summer)…it was a miracle that they came up.”
And that, says Schoonjans, reminds him of Max. “These sunflowers really resemble the life Max went through. There were good days and bad days, but all of these plants are going to put a flower up and they’re going to keep going.”
Tuesday, the sunflowers were just starting to bloom. Schoonjans has started a Facebook page – Miracle Max’s Minions – to let people know when the flowers are ready. Soon, he’ll invite people to his farm at 5023 Douglas Line to take their photos and pick a few flowers and leave a donation in memory of the little boy that made such an impact.
The Rombouts haven’t decided where all the money will go but Jamie says some will definitely go to ChildCan, a local organization which helps families dealing with cancer and provides funding for research into childhood cancer.
After dealing with their son’s cancer, Rombouts is appalled that only five per cent of the money raised for cancer research goes to find cures for childhood cancer.
She says the same treatments developed 25 years ago are still used today. Rombouts hopes the money from the field of sunflowers will help find new treatments“so other families aren’t sitting in the same situation we are today.”