Andrew was blessed in many areas of his life as a child: smart as a whip, funny, outgoing, kind, full of energy, as handsome as can be, and an exceptional athlete, particularly in baseball. Andrew could simply light up a room. Andrew loved to play catch. That was the sports bond and cancer journey theme we will always cherish and dearly miss with Andrew. Playing catch with him again was a sign that he was doing better after each diagnosis and setback. He was okay.
On May 22nd, 2010, at age 11, Andrew was diagnosed with a form of childhood brain cancer (medulloblastoma). Brain surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy followed for 8 long months. Andrew did not waver; the spirit, strength, and courage he embodied were evident. There was zero doubt in his mind that he would beat this.
A routine MRI in September 2013 (around Andrew's 15th birthday) showed Andrew's cancer had returned. Another brain surgery and experimental treatment followed. Thirteen months later, it returned again. This time another form of radiation was used.
In January of 2015, Andrew was diagnosed with encephalitis. He spent five weeks in the hospital and endured more than three months of therapy afterwards. The therapy consisted of learning how to walk, talk, read, and write again. Early on in this diagnosis, Andrew could not recognize who the people he loved so much were. Andrew did not waver; he plowed forward and came out smiling on the other end.
Leptomeningial disease was discovered in his spinal fluid in January 2017 (age 18), when floating cancer cells were discovered. There is currently no known cure for this. We met with "end of life" counselors shortly after. Andrew did not waver; he was determined to defeat this diagnosis. The life expectancy after this diagnosis is often only a few months. Andrew lived for more than five years.
In February and March of 2017, Andrew participated in a clinical trial in San Francisco. He was the first patient in the country to participate in this new study. A modified measles virus was injected into his spinal fluid. A couple of months later, Andrew began another clinical trial in Augusta, Georgia. For 30 straight months (a couple of days each month), we ventured to Augusta. A plane ride to Atlanta and then a 3-hour drive to Augusta, and then back to Wisconsin The outcome of this clinical trial provided Andrew with three more years of quality life. He was able to attend college for 5 semesters, play golf, play catch, and be blessed with overall good health.
May 2020, at 21 years old, was when Andrew's health started to decline. He had a number of strokes over a period of a few months. His mind was still great, but his body was failing. His spirit was still strong, and he still did not waver. In September of that year, Andrew was again part of a different clinical trial in Seattle, Washington; after 10 weeks and no real improvement, we came back home.
Andrew started another therapy regimen for 14 months. His body was getting tired, his eyesight was failing, and, near the end of his precious life, he could no longer sustain himself. The only time Andrew wavered in his 12-year battle was a few days before he passed away. He was sitting up in his hospital bed at home. He could barely speak. He said to me, "I never thought this day would come." He battled bravely to the very end. Andrew passed away peacefully at the stroke of midnight on May 6, 2022.
We always knew Andrew was a special person, a gift here on earth. It has become more and more evident, as time passes, how special he was. The stories about Andrew that were shared by his friends and family at his funeral and golf event were heartwarming and inspiring. Andrew demonstrated nothing but selflessness. In many ways, he was 23 years old and going on 70; he was an old soul. He thought first and foremost about others in his life. Andrew's story has impacted thousands of people around the country. He was the epitome of strength, bravery, and courage!
Andrew made hundreds of hospital visits in Wisconsin and across the country. The number of sick children and ailing families in these hospitals is heartbreaking. The joy of a clear MRI and the subsequent diagnosis of cancer returning are gut-wrenching.
There were many foundations around the country that helped us in countless ways, and we are going to do the same. This led to the first event in memory of Andrew. On August 20, 2022, the inaugural Andrew Wernicke Annual Courage Open was played in Brookfield, Wisconsin. The funds raised went to the Dear Jack Foundation. This foundation, in 2021, provided Andrew with the chance to meet his favorite PGA Tour player, Tommy Fleetwood, at the Ryder Cup in Wisconsin and a high-end television.
Andrew was the longest survivor in the country, according to the doctors in Wisconsin, in relation to how long he lived and the numerous times his cancer returned. Andrew simply wanted to live! He was an inspiration to so many people.
We are going to keep Andrew’s memory alive; he was our hero!
The Andrew Wernicke Courage Foundation is established to help
those in similiar situations and to encourage Andrew's memory to
live on. Be courageous, stay strong, keep faith.
"Be strong and couragous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." - Joshua 1:9
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