Eight-year-old Grady Oprean is going to make a fine doctor one day. He’s got the compassionate bedside manner part licked. That’s for sure. And despite his young age he has experienced enough of the clinical side that he can probably pass his MCATs (Medical College Admission Test) today.
“I want to work for Akron Children’s someday and be the doctor like Dr. Hord is to me,” Grady said.
Grady is being featured in this spring’s Giant Eagle register campaign fundraiser throughout Northeast Ohio when shoppers can donate to the hospital as they go through the store’s checkout. Proceeds will benefit Akron Children’s Showers Family Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders.
Dr. Jeffrey Hord, who is the director of hematology-oncology, is the same person who, months earlier, sat the Opreans in a room to deliver the sobering news that Grady had acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and would face 3-and-a-half years of chemotherapy.
It was April 16, 2018. Grady was 7. His parents were up at 6:30 a.m. getting ready for work when Grady came in the room complaining of chest pain and a stomach ache. Then he started vomiting.
He was rushed to a hospital near their home in Warren for treatment and bloodwork. The ER doctor re-ran the blood test fearing there was an error in the original results. The second test showed the same result.
“I saw ‘Oncology’ on the sign and it just hit me,” said Grady’s mother, Angela Oprean. “That sight will never leave my mind. Everything was a blur when we walked down that hallway.”
The family met with Dr. Hord the next morning.
“At that point I thought my world was just crashing,” Oprean said. “How much more was going to be given to this boy?”
It was not Grady’s first brush with a serious health concern… Or second… Or even third.
Grady was born 6 weeks premature and spent his first 14 days in the Akron Children’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
At age 4, he was diagnosed with type-1 diabetes. And at 6, a gastroenterologist confirmed he had celiac disease. Throughout most of his life he’s been robbed of the fundamental opportunity to be a “normal kid.” But he’s the last one to complain.
The diabetes meant a restricted diet and up to 8 needle injections per day. The celiac resulted in a mandatory gluten-free diet.
“For a younger kid it’s tough when you can’t do everything everybody else does,” Oprean said. “For things like school lunches, snacks, birthday parties, holiday dinners with the family, everybody got on board to accommodate him and make him feel as normal as they could.”
The cancer diagnosis on top of the other issues – a rare combination, indeed – meant painful treatment cycles, isolation from his friends at school, and being sidelined from participating in sports.
“Grady asks if his friends remember who he is,” Oprean said. “It breaks my heart every time he says that.”
Nearly 1 year into his cancer treatment, he’s reached a maintenance phase that’s evident in brightened spirits throughout the family. He recently got the green light to play baseball this summer, rejoin Boy Scouts and try his hand at archery. He also transitioned back to school this spring.
“Grady is a remarkable boy fighting 2 major illnesses in leukemia and diabetes,” Dr. Hord said. “Despite the complexity of his treatment, Grady is still a fun-loving boy who remains intent on doing ‘normal kid’ things like playing baseball and video games. His high energy and loving nature are contagious, and it is my pleasure to care for Grady and to work with his super supportive family.”
The courageous young man still has quite a road ahead of him, but he’s making tremendous progress and showing unwavering resiliency.
“He’s a fighter; he’s going to beat this,” Oprean said. “I tell him all the time he is stronger as a little boy than I have ever been as a mother. He’s an inspiration to so many children who will walk in his shoes.
Throughout this whole process I have never doubted Dr. Hord,” his mother said. “We’re so fortunate to have him in our lives. And ‘nurse Lauren,’ she’s also been amazing with Grady. He just adores her.”
Future patients of Grady’s will undoubtedly share those sentiments about him someday.