Drew Verdecchia often Found Himself Sleeping in a Crib to Comfort his Son
While watching his son, Cruise, celebrate the end of his preschool year last month, one thought dominated Drew Verdecchia’s mind: My God, how lucky are we to have him here?
Just over two years earlier Cruise was diagnosed with a malignant rhabdoid tumor in his right eye orbit. At just 17 months old, Cruise was given an 11 percent chance of survival.
“I don’t take it for granted as much as I did, but I always hope I remember that feeling of knowing how special it is that each of my boys are alive,” said the father of three boys—Blaze, 6; Cruise, 3; and Harper, 1.
Just before Christmas 2010, as the Verdecchias were flying to Colorado, Drew and his wife, Jen, noticed Cruise’s right eye was not tracking. Concerned, the parents took their son to get an MRI, which showed—to the surprise of doctors—no tumor. However, the situation did not improve over the next few months, and Cruise had another MRI the following March. This time, the scan revealed what doctors originally feared.
“When we had the first MRI and doctors came back and said there was no tumor, that was—by far—the best feeling I’ve ever had in my life,” Drew said. “When we got the call that they found the tumor after the second MRI, in contrast, that was absolutely the worst moment of my life. It felt like a ton of bricks on my chest.”
The tumor, which was inoperable, was treated with 10 months of intravenous chemotherapy at the Aflac Cancer Center of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta as well as 2 1/2 months of a very precise radiation treatment, called proton therapy, at The University of Florida Proton Therapy Institute.
Cruise was in the hospital for more than half of the total days he underwent chemo. Though Drew would spend his days at work, while Jen was at the hospital, he was with Cruise every night. After work, the Verdecchias would get together for a family meal before Jen and Blaze headed home for the night.
“I remember days waking up in Cruise’s crib, because in the middle of the night he was shaking and feeling miserable,” Drew said. “The nurse would come in and I would literally be in the crib with him, just holding him so he could sleep.”
Spending his nights at the hospital with Cruise—sometimes for more than a week at a time—took Drew away from his wife and Blaze. But Drew always made sure that his oldest son wasn’t neglected.
“Because I would work during the day and was at the hospital all night long, I’d only get to see Blaze for an hour a day,” Drew said. “There were a few times going in to work, I’d say ‘forget about it,’ and I’d drive by his school and ask the teacher if I could spend a little time with Blaze.”
“Before we had kids, Drew’s goal was to have kids that were happy, healthy and kind, and he really manifests that,” Jen said. “Drew is definitely a kid at heart, but he takes his role of being a dad very seriously.”
Despite only being able to see in his left eye, Cruise’s health has improved greatly since beginning treatment.
“He is doing fantastic,” Drew said. “His success is due to Children’s, Dr. Katzenstein and the amazing nurses of the Aflac Cancer Center.”
Cruise still requires a daily low dose of chemo that he takes orally, but the Verdecchias anticipate the treatment will end in January.
“I look at each of my children and my wife, and I know my life is forever changed,” Drew said. “I appreciate all of my boys even more than I ever did.”