Dreaded Diagnosis Turns Parents of Five into Endurance Athletes, Advocates
One Geist family has chosen to turn a life-altering diagnosis into a life-enhancing opportunity. Their inspiring story turns us toward thankfulness and motivates us to look to causes outside ourselves.
It was Friday night. Todd and Vicky Andritsch drove up the road from Fox Hollow to Bella Vita for a relaxing family dinner. The kids (five in all) enjoyed watching the activity on the lake during their meal. Afterward, 3-year-old Luke ran around exuberantly feeding the friendly ducks on shore.
At 2 a.m. that night, Todd and Vicky were awakened by crying. Luke said his head and legs hurt, and he registered a fever of 102. A trip to the doctor showed he had an ear infection, but antibiotics failed to relieve his pain, which intensified until he was unable to walk.
By Monday, Luke was at Riley Hospital for Children, where he underwent an MRI, bone marrow test, spinal tap and other tests. Soon his parents were given a shocking diagnosis: Luke had Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. He would immediately start an intensive treatment plan involving chemotherapy, infusions and spinal taps — lasting for the next three and half years of his life.
It all happened so suddenly that Todd and Vicky were “in a fog.” When they started to emerge, one of the first things to catch their eye was a brochure from “Team in Training,” a fundraising arm of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS), which trains athletes to participate in endurance events nationwide. (You may have noticed them wearing their trademark purple jerseys at local marathons.)
“We can’t do anything about Luke’s diagnosis,” said Todd, who’s currently training for a triathlon in Washington, D.C. “What we can do is raise money to try to find a cure and prevent it for others.”
The Finish Line
Todd runs or bikes in the morning, swims with his team twice a week and participates in group training on Saturdays. His first Team in Training event was a 100-mile bike ride around Lake Tahoe last June. He’ll be in D.C. Sept. 14 for his first triathlon. Luke is an LLS “honored hero” for the event.
Meanwhile, Vicky is training for the Nike Women’s Half Marathon in San Francisco on Oct. 19. She’s on crutches nursing a stress fracture in her hip but still hopes to participate next month. She says her minor setback is nothing compared to what Luke has had to endure.
“Anytime you have a diagnosis like that for one of your kids, it shakes you to the core,” said Vicky, who often visits Team in Training events with Luke to help put a face to the disease. She adds, “My training is such a mind therapy for me. It’s my outlet, my sense of control.”
While Sept. 14 and Oct. 19 will be big dates for the Andritsch family, those finish lines pale in comparison to July 19, 2010. That’s the day Luke’s treatment will finally end and the port installed into his upper chest will be removed.
His prognosis is good, and years from now, the Andritsches expect to compete in future Team in Training events and be a “family of seven that crosses the finish line together.”
Each member of the Andritsch family has crafted their own ways of supporting Luke and cancer research. His big sisters — Grace, 10, and Audrey, 8 — asked their classmates at Geist Elementary to donate spare change, collecting several hundred dollars each. Big Brother Jack, 14, rallied his cross country teammates to climb the 37 floors of the AUL Building downtown during Riley’s “Bop to the Top” fundraiser. The whole team wore “Step it Up for Luke” T-shirts.
“It’s an emotional cause for us,” Vicky said. “It’s been amazing the number of people we’ve come to know and the support we’ve been given.”
Sometimes support has come in the form of other parents volunteering to shuttle their kids to and from soccer practice. Other times, it has been prayers and words of encouragement from friends at their church, New Hope Presbyterian.
A family friend and local orthodontist, Dr. Chuck Sadler, is training with Todd for the Nation’s Triathlon in D.C. and is raising funds in honor of Luke. Sadler says he’s amazed by the strength of the Andritsch family. “They are truly an inspiration for all of us,” he says.
If you have been inspired by Luke’s story, there are many ways to get involved. For more information on Luke and to send him a note of encouragement, visit www.caringbridge.org/visit/lukeandritsch. To learn more about blood cancers and where to donate, visit www.leukemia-lymphoma.org. Visit Team in Training pages for Todd, Vicky or Dr. Chuck at www.teamintraining.org (just search for the name of the person you wish to support).
Team in Training checks (payable to “The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society”) may also be mailed to:
Todd and Vicky Andritsch
10051 Wild Turkey Row
McCordsville, IN 46055
Let’s support our amazing Geist neighbors as they raise a family while training for athletic events and battling blood cancer. Can’t wait to see you cross your “finish line,” Luke!