It all started at Andy's sixth birthday party.
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 15,000 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.
Andy's mother began her letter-writing campaign to public safety departments, explaining her son's interest and his condition:
In an enthusistic response to Laurie's letter patches and memorabilia soon began to arrive, lifting Andy's spirits and strenghtening the bond between the public safety organizations and Andy. Chief Gerald Simon of the Oakland, Calif. Fire Department's letter is typical of the personal response he received from one of his heroes.
Andy's collection now approaches 15,000 patches and thousands of pieces of memorabilia from all 50 states in the U.S. The collection continues to grow, View a current tally of the patch collection.
Not only did Laurie's simple request result in overwhelming responses, Andy received invitations to visit his heroes where they worked. Oakland, Calif. Fire Chief Gerald Simon, invited Andy and his mother for a weeklong all-expense paid visit to meet the Oakland Fire Department. The Oakland Fire Department Administration sponsored the trip along with Oakland Firefighters Random Acts, a non-profit organization; International Association of Firefighters Local 55; Oakland Black Firefighters Association; Oakland Firefighters Sports Association; Oakland Firefighters Hospitality Fund and numerous individuals.
Examples of the enthusiastic response that Andy recieved in response to a simple request: