Andy's mother, Laurie, has written about her son and his passion for the firefighting, law enforcment and emergency services. These are her words:
It could be said that we did our first run on February 16th of 1990. I received a call from the County Court. They needed a home for a newborn that had been diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Six other families had already turned them down. All they knew about the baby was the initial diagnosis, and that he had been born full term weighing only three and a half pounds. I knew this child could have a multitude of problems, and that if I agreed to take him he would forever change my life.
The baby's name was Andrew, but for the next few years I would call him "Baby". I expected to have him for the rest of his life, which I felt would not be long. And, as a single parent now raising six children alone, I figured he'd always be the baby of the family. I was wrong.
I was right about him having a multitude wrong with him. His long bones were unusually short, he had obvious spinal abnormalities, he did not cry to be fed, and his cry was so weak that he could not be heard from more than a few feet away. He would stay dry for twelve to fourteen hours at a time, he tremored constantly.
Today Andy is 13. He is a whole foot shorter than his 13-year-old brother. He has Growth Hormone Deficiency Dwarfism. He has spastic type Cerebral Palsy. He has Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and Central Apnea. He is oxygen and ventilator dependant. He seizures daily. He has severe Gastro-esophageal Reflux Disease. He is tube fed. The deformed portion of his spine had to be removed, and he is braced to the waist. He has endured nearly forty surgical procedures. He is frequently ill.
Despite all these things, Andy is in many ways a very normal boy. He loves to aggravate is siblings, and he's very good at it. He enjoys going to malls, movies and fast food restaurants. He likes music, videos and computer games. He has hopes, dreams and plans for the future.
For the past eight years Andy has dreamed of being a Public Safety Officer. He is totally obsessed with all things related to law enforcement, fire fighting and emergency medical service. He is fascinated with the vehicles, the work and the people that are willing to lay their lives on the line in the service of others.
He collects anything and everything even remotely related to these professions. He loves to visit departments and agencies. He lives to attend Patch Collectors Shows.
Andy's massive collection started with a simple gift of a couple of patches from a local fire fighter on his sixth birthday. We slowly added to his collection as we visited local departments. At the time our visits were usually spontaneous. We'd be coming back from a doctor or hospital appointment, come across a Police Department or a Fire Station, and if Andy had not seizured his way into unconsciousness we'd stop for a short visit.
Andy was very medically fragile. He suffered from frequent and severe respiratory infections, bladder infections and stomach ulcers. He was having at least one hundred seizures a day. It was obvious that the visiting and collecting were distracting Andy from his health problems. I needed to find a way to make his collection grow a little faster.
At Christmas time, when Andy was seven, together we devised a plan. Since Santa had to stop at every city and town in the whole world on Christmas Eve, he was the perfect person to help Andy with his collection. We decided to ask for one thousand patches, it seemed like such a huge number of patches. Only Santa possessed magic powerful enough to accomplish such a feat. We wrote him a letter. Andy was unaware that our local paper had requested Santa letters that would be published just prior to Christmas. I sent his letter in.
Apparently, Andy's letter possessed some special Christmas magic of its own because it turned a lot of local readers onto elves. By Christmas Day the number of Andy's patches had grown from about one hundred-fifty to three hundred. And they just kept coming. By early March, Andy had the thousand patches that he had asked for plus a large assortment of other collectibles. His patch collector friends encouraged him to set new goals. He did - The biggest and best collection of Police, Fire and EMS memorabilia in the whole world.
We opened mail almost everyday. Some days Andy couldn't even hold his head up due to the number of seizures he'd had. But, with his small stiff hands he would hold the patches and other items as I read him the notes and letters that had come with them.
I began to see slow but steady changes in Andy. His desire and ability to communicate grew. His fine motor skills were improving. He asked for 'thank you' notes to be sent to those that had helped him with his collecting. He remembered which items had come with each letter or note. He knew which of his patches had come from departments we had visited. He remembered what he had seen and done on those visits. A million seizures later he still remembers.
Today Andy has nearly 10,000 patches, and an extensive assortment of other collectibles. He has many wonderful and unique items in his growing collection. The most important part is the friends he's made. People from near and far love him and care about him even though most of them have never met him. They encourage him to be strong. They pray for his comfort and well being. They are helping him to make it to his next birthday - the most important day of the year to Andy. They are my heroes.
As Andy's knowledge and understanding of the duties performed by law enforcement personal, fire fighters and emergency medical technicians grows he has begun to worry about the safety of his friends that are involved in these professions. His role-playing has taken on a more serious and sophisticated look. With the aid of a vivid imagination and to the best of his physical ability he envisions himself as one of the people he admires so much. Today he's a fire fighter rescuing a child from a burning building, tomorrow he'll be a paramedic saving someone's Grandma from a heart attack, or a police officer arresting a thief or helping a stranded motorist.
Andy's lungs have been bleeding off and on for over a year now. I don't know how much future he has left or what it holds for him. I have never tried to tell him that his medical and physical problems will forever prevent him from fulfilling his dreams. Andy is no longer a little boy. He has come to this painful realization on his own.
Sadly, Christmas has lost some of it's magic. There are no more letters to Santa. But, police officers, sheriff deputies, fire fighters and paramedics everywhere - if ever you find yourself feeling unappreciated for the risks you take, remember there is a young man in southern Michigan that holds you in very high regard. He cares about your safety and appreciates the work you do. To Andy you will always possess a very special magic. You will always be his heroes. He still wants desperately to be just like you when he grows up, if he grows up.
Andy is nearly eighteen. Much has happened since I wrote 'Noble Heroes" in March of 2003.
Later in 2003, we attended our first National Police Collectors Show visiting departments in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia during our long road trip. We visited Chicago for the first time, where we had the privilege of attending a conference for the Fellowship of Christian Firefighters. We attended a Fire Chaplains Conference in Kentucky. Some of our California friends were there. We also attended a Patch Collectors Show in Missouri.
In 2004, Andy finally got rid of his feeding tube and oxygen. We still keep the oxygen in the house for illnesses. He switched to a newer, more compact ventilator that allowed him to be more comfortable and more mobile. In fact, he became independently mobile for the first time in several years. We got to visit with our Oakland, California friends again when we paid a surprise visit during Chief Gerald Simon's Retirement Party.
This last trip to California put an end to our travels for a while. My finances changed, and health issues for Andy and other family members made travel difficult. We even had to stop attending local Patch Shows. We stopped subscribing to the magazines and papers that Andy enjoyed so much. I had to stop sending requests to departments, because I could no longer afford the materials necessary to do so.
Most of the mail stopped. It was hard for Andy. He understood that there was no longer money for extras. Knowing the reason for the serious decrease in collecting and visiting didn't make it any easier to accept. I watched him battle mild depression and realized just how important the friends, visits and collecting had been to his over-all well being.
Like most teens, when Andy was fifteen he started asking about a part-time job. My children that were older and had no major physical or health issues were having difficulty getting jobs, even the ones that already had diplomas. I knew no one would hire Andy. I was making key chains and zipper-pulls out of plastic lace and beads just for something to do. I told Andy I could start putting names on the key chains and he could try selling them. This was the start of our tiny home key chain/zipper-pull business. A friend suggested we try doing Craft Shows with our key chains. It was a great idea. Finally, we had a little extra money. When the extra income wasn't going for needs, we could occasionally have or do things that we had not been able to for a while.
We discovered Miracle League - a baseball league for children with disabilities. Although Andy has been involved in many different group activities over the years - church youth groups, bowling leagues, Cub Scouts, the Roseville Handicapped Association - he had never really seemed to fit in until Miracle League Baseball. Here at the Southfield Civic Center, on a specially designed field, with specially designed equipment, for the first time in his life he played baseball with other kids, some of them having similar disabilities and impairments. For the first time, he wasn't the only person with a tracheotomy, not the only one with leg braces, a wheelchair or a walker. He wasn't the only one that couldn't talk. He saw other children with oxygen and/or feeding tubes like he had used in the past. For the first time ever, he wasn't the 'only one'. Thank you, Steve Peck, for bringing Miracle League to Michigan.
It is odd how some events in our lives, whether major or relatively minor, will have such a life altering affect on us. This year Andy suffered his first real lose of a loved one. His 'Grandpa' Bill Barnes, long time friend and fellow collector, passed away in January. Knowing Bill changed Andy's life for the better. His death has changed Andy forever.
It has always been Andy's dream to be of service to others. Now, with a lot of help from a lot of people, Andy will have the opportunity to reach out to those in need. Andy's patches, the largest part of his collection, are being sewn onto banners suitable for display. For the first time, Andy and others will be able to view nearly all his collection of patches at the same time. We hope that the displaying of Andy's collection will be used to encourage donations to the charitable causes of local Law Enforcement Agencies and Fire Departments around the U.S. and perhaps Canada.
For a child that should have never reached his first birthday, Andy has accomplished a great deal. God has honored and blessed me by allowing me to be Andy's Mom. I still don't know how much future Andy has nor what it will hold, but, like Andy, I too have hopes, dreams and plans for the future. I hope to see Andy achieve his goals and dreams. For a long time, it has been my dream to somehow help him visit at least one department in each state in the continental United States - only thirty-five states to go. My plan for the future concerning Andy is always the same - to get him to his next birthday. It's the most important day of the year to Andy. So far Andy has managed to prove his doctor's initial prognosis wrong. He's not supposed to still be here. From the very beginning I was certain that Andy would never be a man. Even if he doesn't make it to eighteen, he has still proven me wrong, for he is already more man than any man I've ever met.
On January 31, 2008, Andy made it to 18.
Andy was born in Royal Oak, Michigan on January 31, 1990.
Adoption was finalized March 1993.
At this time, per Andy's request, his name was legally changed from Andrew to Andy.
Andy has dark blond hair, gray eyes, and a red beard.
He is 4' 6" and weighs 65 pounds. He is done growing.
Andy has numerous older siblings, one younger sister, three young nephews, and a hamster.
Andy is home-schooled and will graduate in 2008.
Andy has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. This means he has (or had) one or more characteristics common to children born to alcoholic mothers.
He has Growth Hormone Deficiency Dwarfism. This means he is simply small.
He body is proportionate, but he's the size of a 9-year-old.
He quit growing when he was thirteen.
He has Central Apnea. This means the respiratory portion of the brain does not automatically remind him to take a breath if he happens to quit breathing. Unlike sleep apnea, Andy can quit breathing even when he's awake. He is ventilator dependant.
He has Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), sometimes referred to as Emphysema. They're basically the same lung disease with a different cause.
He has Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease (GERD).
This means everything he eats wants to come back up. He's had multiple surgeries as a result of this disease.
He has spastic type Cerebral Palsy (CP). This means the brain is sending too many messages to the muscles, causing an overload of info which causes the muscles to tighten. The greater the overload, the tighter the muscles will be. Andy's degree of spasticity (tightness) is moderate.
Andy is Learning Disabled (LD). Although socially and emotionally Andy is pretty normal, his academic skills are scattered. His grade level varies depending on the subject.
Andy has had close to 70 surgical procedures. He has a seizure disorder. At one point he was having over 100 seizures a day. Today, he has a few seizures a month, which sometimes increase during illnesses. He is missing a portion of his spine which had to be surgically removed. Andy uses leg braces and walks with a walker in the house and uses a wheelchair outside the home. He is unable to speak but uses some sign language and is learning to use an electro-larynx to communicate.
Despite the many things that Andy has wrong with him, he does not see himself as disabled. He sees himself as different. I agree. Living with Andy has been an incredibly wonderful, enlightening, up-lifting, and educational, sometimes frightening roller coaster ride. Although I am willing to occasionally ride roller coasters, I tend to be picky about which ones I'll ride. I'm very glad I chose to go on the Andy coaster.
Holiday: His Birthday (it's the most important day of the year to him)
Foods: Strawberry milkshakes, pizza, 'Grandma Salad' (macaroni & tuna salad), chicken, and soft bread sticks
TV & Videos: 'Cops', ' Emergency', 'Chips', 'Adam 12', 'Night Rider', 'Sponge Bob', and the News
Reading: Newspapers, Police & Fire magazines, and short Sci-Fi novels
Things To Do: Travel ( especially road trips), visit fire & police departments, make new friends, visit old friends, collect fire, law enforcement & EMS memorabilia, play baseball, 'Gameboy', computer games, and listen to music
Places To Go: Police & Sheriff Departments, Fire Stations, Patch Collector's Shows, museums, parks, zoos, Bible class, ball games and fishing
Other General Interests: Science, history, sports (especially baseball & basketball),
all types of vehicles (land, air & sea) and teenaged girls
Andy collects EVERYTHING related to Law Enforcement, Fire Fighting, & Emergency Medical Service.
Additional articles about Andy and his patch collection are found on the Media page.
View Andy's Photo Gallery
View as Slideshow