~as told by Erin Hennessy
In 1995, my dear friend from college, Andrew Smith, discovered a large growth on his arm. On April 19, 1995, he was diagnosed with cancer. It was also the day of the Oklahoma City bombing. Andrew focused on the bombing rather than his own situation. He actually thought that he was fortunate since he had innumerable days ahead of him, while the victims in Oklahoma had their lives taken instantaneously. To Andrew, the chance to keep on living, even while battling cancer, was a gift. A miracle.
Andrew had major surgery to remove the tumor in his arm. Due to the size of the tumor (At 6’ 4”, Andrew’s tumors were never petite), the doctors were quite certain that he would lose his arm. Through the miracles of medicine, they were able to remove the tumor with appropriate margins, save his arm, and provide for some mobility.
Following the surgery, Andrew had to undergo chemotherapy. He lost his hair and he lost weight. Nevertheless, he had the courage to ask his beautiful chemo nurse out on a date (not at all his style, by the way). She said yes. He married Penny Bohman in October of 1998. She was his angel. Another miracle.
In April of 1999, Andrew called me from his home in Indiana to tell me that Penny was pregnant. Since he had undergone extensive chemotherapy, Andrew’s sperm count was severely reduced. Obviously, the fact that Penny got pregnant was yet another miracle. A few months later, Andrew’s scan revealed another tumor in his abdomen. By this time, he had had several tumors. He was not responsive to chemotherapy and the only real treatment was to have the tumors surgically removed. These surgeries lasted many hours and each time, Andrew lost parts of his major organs. It took him months to recover.
During the summer of 1999, Andrew’s doctors in Indiana declared his most recent tumor inoperable. This news did not deter Andrew and Penny. Instead, they began a crusade to find a doctor who would be willing to try to help Andrew. Andrew had a very rare form of cancer, Leiomyosarcoma. At that time, there was no real treatment protocol or clinical trials being done for this type of cancer. He had been to Mexico and underwent various experimental treatments but these were not successful.
Penny, now six months pregnant, would not give up. She found a doctor in New York’s St. Vincent’s hospital who was not only willing to attempt surgery on Andrew but was also experimenting with a chemotherapy wash that would be directly applied to the tumor site. Suddenly his inoperable tumor was “operable. We were overjoyed. It was a miracle.
At the end of August of 1999, Andrew and Penny came to New York for Andrew’s surgery. There, of course, was a question as to where Andrew, his pregnant wife and their families would stay. While they had two friends living in New York, they needed a comfortable and affordable space to rest for the months to come. If they rented a hotel room in New York, it would cost them hundreds of dollars a night and they still would not have had certain necessities required for a long stay such as kitchen appliances. Fortunately, the social worker at St. Vincent’s hospital suggested that Andrew and Penny look into Miracle House.
Andrew and Penny’s families took part in Miracle House sponsored breakfasts. They became close with the volunteers, so much so that one even visited Andrew in the hospital. For a family that was far away from home dealing with a great challenge, Miracle House provided not only a home, but a family. Andrew’s father, Bill Smith, had this to say: Obviously, we were there under the very worst of circumstances. But in the midst of all of that stood the people from Miracle House. We had a nice, clean, safe place to stay in New York, and every time we turned around, there was Mitch, Ron, and the others offering their help in every way possible. I love them all still today.” We all feel that the organization is aptly named Miracle House.
The Smiths and Bohmans stayed at Miracle House from August until October. Andrew was recovering form his surgery and Penny was determined to have their baby home in Indiana. They made it home and Penny gave birth to their son, Evan Lytle Smith, on October 7, 1999. He is our living miracle!
Andrew, Penny and Evan enjoyed the holidays in Indiana and Andrew was able to spend precious moments with his wife and baby boy. However, shortly thereafter, Andrew developed another tumor that required surgery. Fortunately, they had their home away from home in New York, Miracle House, to return to. Now, with baby in tow, Andrew, Penny and their respective family members returned to New York. Miracle House was even more appreciated on this trip since they now had Evan with them.
In January, 2000, Andrew bravely underwent yet another surgery. However, this time he would not recover. Andrew passed away on February 11, 2000.
When you lose a loved one, particularly someone that is young (Andrew was 29), it is often difficult to see any silver lining. However, the truth is that Andrew put up a valiant fight and never gave up on life. While he was burdened with a deadly disease, he was able to keep looking forward. During a time when he was constantly bombarded with difficult and unwanted challenges, he was also blessed in many ways. And his loved ones were all blessed by having him in our lives for as long as we did. Andrew taught us all to see the miracles in every day life.
Erin Hennessy helped establish The Heritage Hill Foundation and is a member of the Board of Directors of Miracle House. She remains close with the Smith Family. The Heritage Hill Foundation has donated funds to the Miracle House.