For me, Halloween is the anniversary of the day our lives changed. It was certainly a scary day, but it was also filled with hope.
Many of you know the story of my son, and may have read about the wonderful doctors and nurses and organizations that have played a crucial role in his journey.
But not many of you know what really happened that Halloween and how one man made such a great a difference. So today as you are donning your scary costume or perhaps a superhero cape, please take a moment to read this truly frightening, real-life, Halloween Hero story.
It was on this day, exactly 3 years ago that I rushed to the hospital with my son, Ryan. He had just turned 3 a few weeks earlier and had been suffering with worsening symptoms for months.
His symptoms were nothing more than a runny nose at first and then progressed into a mild cough and low grade fever. Nothing to cause too much alarm or worry from his doctor, but I knew in the pit of my stomach something was just not right.
And on this day, something had changed. His breathing was quick, his color pale, his energy gone. I rushed him to the ER at Akron Children’s Hospital.
Thinking it was just pneumonia, they took an X-ray. The black area on the left-hand side is his right lung, filled with air.
His left lung is nowhere to be seen, completely collapsed by the enormous tumor filling his chest, bending his trachea and pushing his heart into his right lung.
The doctors were so shocked by this picture they called me into the hallway to show it to me. They had never seen anything like this and were unsure of exactly what it was they were seeing. They explained they were going to call in the surgeon-on-call to take a look and give his opinion.
A very tall and lanky ER doc came into the room staring at his clipboard and leaned up against the counter. After several minutes of silence and scribbling he began to speak to me in medical jargon that I was at this point completely unfamiliar with. He spoke dismissively, as if this was routine, without ever looking up and said it was just fluid from pneumonia surrounding the lung and clouding the picture.
Then a man in street clothes waltzed into the room. He looked like he had just rode in on a motorcycle with his leather jacket and boots. He wasn’t much taller than me, small frame and a quiet dignity, with eyes so wise and gentle and hands that were skilled and strong.
This stranger introduced himself as the surgeon, looked me directly in the eyes, and told me quite bluntly, yet carefully, that he believed there was a tumor in my son’s chest.
The ER doctor scoffed and argued that it was simply fluid. The surgeon once again stressed this was a tumor. There was something about his demeanor that made me immediately trust him.
And although my head began spinning with his words and descriptions of the surgery he was about to perform (which was NOT removal of the tumor at this point), I believed him. I wanted so badly to believe the much better sounding explanation given by the arrogant and dismissive ER doc that never once looked at me. But instead I had inexplicable trust in this man that gallantly rode in on his metal steed.
They were in quite a hurry to get Ryan prepped and the OR ready for the surgery. He apologized that he needed to run and wash up. I rambled as many questions as I could before he quickly slipped out the door and I followed him into the hallway.
As I shook his hand, I held it tightly and looked him in the eye. While choking back tears, I pleaded for him to please take care of my baby boy. He clasped my hand and said he would. And I believed him. On that day, I saw a cape in place of that leather jacket as this man became a hero and protector of my son.
This surgeon was the same one who first delivered the news. The first to tell us what we all feared but knew deep down, that it was indeed cancer.
But hearing it from him made the blow just a little softer. He went on to operate on Ryan many times and each time I asked him to take care of my boy. And each time he said he would.
From biopsies to a tracheotomy, to various chest tubes for drainage, to the removal of the tumor and half of his lung, to the second-look-surgery removing the margins, this surgeon carefully cut my child but played such an important role in saving his life.
He was in the room, along with my mother and nurse Robin, the day he removed the trach. It was because of him that Ryan croaked out his first words after nearly 7 weeks of not speaking due to intubation: “I love you mommy.”
He is now a healthy and happy 6-year-old Kindergartener who loves to run, swim, read, paint, and practice karate. He is an active participant with a number of childhood cancer organizations including Make-A-Wish where his photo is used on the pamphlets, The Littlest Heroes where he is featured as an artist and survivor, and the much loved Camp Quality and Project Ed Bear.
He has 2 more scans to go this year then he will be considered “cured”, meaning he will be out of the woods as far as any recurrence, though he will need lifelong monitoring for secondary cancers and any late term side effects from the chemo.
Dr. David Andrews – THANK YOU for saving our Ryan. You are our Hero.
You may have seen Ryan last year all over the media. He was the 5 year old who ran a touch down with the Cleveland Browns. See the video.
There is also a Facebook page for Ryan with stories and pictures from his journey and beyond.