Youngster gives God credit for blessings

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 19, 2000

Features Editor

When Anthony Romanczuk was more alone than anyone should ever have to be, his thoughts were of flowers and sunshine. His prayers were for God to heal him.

Now, that he has touched the flowers again and felt the warmth of the sunshine, Anthony’s prayers are words of thanksgiving.

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He doesn’t hesitate when asked about the things for which he is most thankful.

"That I am alive and that God has healed me."

That is a rather profound statement for a 10-year-old, but, not when one considers the difficult journey that Anthony has been on for the past three years.

He was diagnosed with leukemia, three years ago and all he understood was that there was something wrong with his blood.

The words weren’t that alarming but the concern on the faces of his family and his doctor told Anthony that he should be scared.

The treatments Anthony received were successful and he quickly went into remission. Then, he was out of remission and back again. Then, in January, 2000, the diagnosis was devastating for Anthony and his family, which included his foster grandparents, Steve and Jan Rascoe.

"We were told that Anthony would have to have a bone marrow transplant," Jan Rascoe said. "At best his chances were 50-50."

Anthony underwent the bone marrow transplant in Birmingham and began the long road to recovery.

For six months he was hospitalized, most of that time in dark isolation.

"All I could do was just lie there in bed," Anthony said. "The room was always dark because the light hurt my eyes. I was too sick to do anything. I just wanted to sleep. I didn’t want to talk and I hurt all over, especially my legs. I prayed to God and asked him to make me well."

Anthony said there were times during the first month or two that he cried, "because I was sad and I hurt and I was scared and I didn’t want to die."

There were times when Anthony said he thought that he would die.

"I thought if I did die I would go up to heaven and be with God," he said. "But I didn’t want to die and leave my brother alone."

As Anthony’s condition slowly improved, his thoughts turned to the things he enjoys most.

"I thought about flowers and going out in the sun and playing baseball," he said. "I really like to play baseball and catch and throw and run. I thought about that a lot."

When he was allowed out of isolation, Anthony made friends with other children who were also patients at the hospital. Through them he experienced the joy of friendship and the heartbreak that cancer too often brings.

"Some of my friends died," he said. "Two or three of them. Then, I felt so sad and alone again."

At long last, Anthony improved enough to move out of the hospital and into a nearby apartment with his mother, He made regular visits to the hospital and was looking forward to going home.

Then, he had a setback and was put back in the hospital.

"I didn’t want to go back to the hospital," he said. "I didn’t want to be in there again. I was very sad. I was scared and I cried."

Through it all, Anthony said his Nana and Papa (Steve and Jan Rascoe) were there with him.

"Papa told me that God would heal me so I could jog and play baseball again and I kept thinking about that and I kept praying and now I’m home," Anthony said. "I can go outside and swing. I can even eat salads now."

Eating a salad might not be a big thing for most children but Anthony, who likes a good salad, has been on a strict diet for so long that when the doctor told him he could eat salad, it was a big day in his young life.

And, there are even bigger days ahead.

Anthony wants to go fishing and swimming and, of course, play baseball again. But the biggest thing he wants to do is go to school and the biggest day in not too far away.

"I’ve only got about four months to go until March 1st," he said, with a big smile.

March 1, 2000 is the day Anthony had the bone marrow transplant that saved his life.

"I’m 10 years old on the outside of me but on March 1st, the inside of my body will be one year old. I have a baby’s bone marrow and, when I get to be one year old on the inside, I can start to do some really fun things – like go to school and play baseball."

Jan Rascoe said the one year mark is a milestone in Anthony’s recovery and they are optimistic that he has lots of at-bats ahead of him.

But, without even swinging the bat, Anthony Romanczuk is a hero – a real champion of the cause.

On Thanksgiving Day he will say a special prayer for all of those who have been with him and prayed with him and for him as he fought for his young life.

Anthony said he knows he has been blessed but what he doesn’t know is that he has been a blessing to so many. And for all of them, Anthony is the reason for the season of Thanksgiving.