WYOMING, Ohio - The empty chair in the corner of an elementary school classroom serves as a grim reminder one of the students is battling a deadly disease.
This image is repeated in thousands of school nationwide, as young cancer patients miss days and weeks of school to receive life-saving treatments.
But not at this elementary school in Wyoming. There's a monkey in that chair!
When 7-year-old Cynthia has to miss class, a stuffed monkey roughly her size sits in her chair. The monkey has a backpack with a camera, a notepad, and a pen. Students leave her messages, and they take the monkey on field trips so Cynthia feels connected to her friends and teachers.
"When she wasn't there," said Cynthia's first grade teacher Tracy Kroger, "that monkey took the physical representation of her, and the kids were still able to feel her as part of that family."
Teachers used the camera to take photos of the monkey getting into trouble while Cynthia was enduring weeks of cancer treatment. The kit comes with its own secure website where the child can view the pictures and exchange messages with classmates.
Cynthia's mom says the monkey has helped the young girl face weeks of treatments. "She loves him," said her mother Katie. "It really is a true connection between her and her classmates when she's gone. She feels like a part of her is still here, and it also reminds her classmates Cynthia isn't gone -- she's just taking a break and she'll be back."
There's a Monkey in My Chair is the name of the charity, now part of The Cure Starts Now , an international pediatric brain cancer research foundation that started here in the Tri-State.
Cynthia is the face of a national appeal going out to Groupon subscribers nationwide Tuesday. Cincinnati-based Chiquita has pledged to match up to $25,000 in donations received on the Groupon website.
The monkey has been taking Cynthia's place since kindergarten. So far this school year, the second grader hasn't missed a single day. The monkey is ready, but everyone hopes the monkey will never be needed again.
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