Active children often come home with bumps and bruises. making it hard to determine what is normal. So on June 1, 2009 when Drew D’Auteuil came home from playing soccer with a rash and unusual bruising it caused concern, but not panic for his parents Jennifer, a pediatric nurse practitioner, and Peter, a corporate pilot.
Drew saw his doctor two days later and several tests indicated that his blood counts, including platelet count, were near zero and there was concern about bleeding in his head. A medical team of nearly a dozen experts met Drew when he arrived at Children’s Hospital late on the night of June 3. Within 48 hours, Jennifer and Peter learned that Drew had aplastic anemia, a rare disease that strikes only 1-2 people per million. More commonly found in adults, this would have been a death sentence 30 years ago. Reduced to no red or white blood cells and no platelets, Drew was given a transfusion of red blood cells and platelets immediately and remained hospitalized on and off for nearly 11 weeks. His longest time home during that period was 20 hours between hospital admissions.
When he was released to go home, Drew was isolated and could not be in public places, have friends over, use hand towels, eat anything raw, enjoy leftovers or be in the same area as plants and certain animals due to the risk of infection. His older twin brothers, Kevin and Ryan, had been living with friends and neighbors most of the summer, but quickly got educated and enjoyed being together again as a family, despite living in isolation.
Drew then required a stem cell transplant and unfortunately neither of his siblings was a match. A round of immunosuppressive chemotherapy hoping to jump start his bone marrow failed. Then Drew needed to start an aggressive radiation/chemotherapy treatment before being given a stem cell transplant. This resulted in gall bladder complications and organ failure that made Drew very sick just four months after the transplant.
By January 3, 2011, Drew was back to school, but more complications prevented a full recovery to date. The next complication was graft vs. host, which also added organ challenges, particularly in his kidneys with high blood pressure as a result.
“We met the Andruzzis at Dream Camp in 2010 when the Joe Andruzzi Foundation invited Jimmy Fund patients and their families to watch a Patriots practice and meet some players afterwards. We tried to be respectful, but couldn’t resist a photograph,” said Jennifer. “Joe talked openly about his illness and genuinely was interested in our story, too. When we were invited to Codzilla in 2011, we immediately said yes and thoroughly enjoyed the outing.”
The D’Auteil’s met many people at Children’s Hospital and online through support groups. It helps to hear about other success stories.
“When you get through it, you are given an opportunity to pay it back,” continued Jennifer. “Drew’s battle is still up hill, but it’s a slight incline and not Mount Everest. This is our new normal.”
The community, school, town, and church dropped off paper towels, plastic utensils, bottled water and hand sanitizer. They even were bombarded with restaurant gift cards although few were used initially due to restrictions. Drew’s brothers held a benefit concert and when Drew returned home local moms held an ice cream sundae event in the school parking lot to celebrate his 100 day milestone post transplant.
“It’s humbling and tough to accept help even though no one looks for repayment. We kept our eyes on the end game of getting Drew better,” said Peter. “If you have faith, hang on to it as sometimes it’s the only thing to carry you through the rough times.”