March 13, 2009

By William Croyle

NEWPORT, KY - The phone rang Wednesday afternoon in Christopher 'Critter' Smith's room at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. His mom had just stepped out for a moment, so he answered it.

'Critter, it's Paul Stanley,' the caller said. Stanley is the lead singer for KISS, Critter's favorite rock band.

'At first, I thought it was just my dad messing with me,' Critter said.

It really was Stanley.

The band had been alerted about Critter by a fan after an article was published March 2 in The Enquirer. The article talked about the 11-year-old's battle with leukemia, and mentioned his love for KISS.

'When I realized it was really him, I was like, 'Oh my God!'' Critter said.

Stanley told Critter to stay strong and that he was praying for him. 'And he told me he was going to send me some KISS stuff,' Critter said.

All of that happened about 1:30 p.m. The call lasted just a few minutes, but was enough to raise Critter's spirits.

'I was lying down all day,' Critter said. 'Then, after he called me, I was up playing basketball in my room.'

'He was on top of the world,' said his mother, Carol Smith.

About 10 p.m. that same day, the phone rang again. Still bouncing off the walls from Stanley's call, Critter got another surprise: It was the band's drummer, Eric Singer.

'I was just like 'Woooow!'' Critter exclaimed.

Singer talked with Critter for a few minutes and invited him to one of their concerts this summer to see the show and meet the band.

'I've never even been to a concert at all,' Critter said. 'This is just so cool!'

This is Critter's second bout with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a cancer of the white blood cells.

During five months in 2007 he underwent five rounds of chemotherapy, a round of radiation and a bone marrow transplant. Critter returned to school at Fourth Street Elementary and was in remission for 15 months until January.

He's started chemotherapy. He'll undergo another bone marrow aspiration this weekend.

The good news, his mom said, is that doctors are going to hold off for now on another bone marrow transplant until they see how he does.

'To have to go through this twice isn't fair, but I'm ecstatic he's responding to the chemo,' his mother said. 'I'm still nervous, but hopeful.'