Editor Note: To our readers – we want you to know that you aren’t alone. Share your stories with us in the form at the bottom of the article, and we’ll continue to share them with the Blue family. It always helps to know that you’re not alone.
There’s something plaguing the families of police officers all across the country… and nobody is talking about it.
And nobody is having the conversation about these children because, quite frankly, we are talking about a culture of warriors who keep things close to the vest. Sometimes TOO close to the vest.
We’ve conducted hundreds of interviews with LEOs over the past two years for our Behind the Uniforms series. And in at least half of these, when the cameras stop rolling, the guest touches on a subject that they don’t like to talk about publicly – their families.
It’s a painfully cruel irony. So many of these warriors are out on the road every single day protecting others, yet they come home to tremendous suffering in their own homes.
I’m not suggesting any kind of a statistical difference between the number of sick kids or children with severe disabilities in police families vs. other families. There may very well be, but we have no data to conclude one way or another.
Here’s what I WILL say. In our experience, police are less likely to talk about it. To find others in the same boat. To ask for support.
Many officers have privately shared with me that they are embarrassed to ask for help, because their training is to help others.
Others feel it would put their kids and risk and make their families targets. Let’s face it, there are some bad people in the world.
As a father, it breaks my heart to hear of ANY child suffering – whether they come from a Blue family or not. But having heard story after heart-wrenching story about those who have dedicated their lives in service to others and then have to fight such excruciating personal battles is painful.
I want to share with you the story of my friend Jack, so you know you’re not alone. He’ll be featured in an upcoming episode of Behind the Uniforms.
Jack retired as a Captain in the West Hartford, Connecticut P.D. after more than 30 years. He’s now involved in a non-profit organization called Amy’s Angels… which is helping change lives every single day.
He started working with them because of how they came through for his own family.
If you were to meet Jack, you’d see a warm and gentle man with a heart of gold. He’d literally give you the shirt off his back.
But behind his kind eyes are an unspeakable pain because of what his family has gone through.
His son, Connor, was born with a condition called hydrocephalus. It’s basically a condition caused when the cerebral fluid doesn’t drain from the brain prior to birth.
That fluid kept his brain from properly developing. He was born deaf and blind. Doctors told Jack and his wife that their son would have no quality of life and would basically be a vegetable, living only a few months at most.
Doctors told them to put the baby in a long-term critical care facility, where he’d live his short life before passing away. Jack and his wife decided they couldn’t stand the idea of their child being left in a corner to die.
His wife gave up her career, and they took Connor home to provide him comfort.
He didn’t live for three months.
He lived for nine years.
“He did a million – and I’m not exaggerating when I said that a million things – that he was never supposed to do,” said Jack. “And the doctors still today when I see his pediatrician they say there is no medical explanation for Connor for what he did.”
Connor was actually in the third-grade learning sign language when he passed away.
“He did things … amazing things… and that amazement was proven in his death,” said Jack. “He made me a better person. He made my wife a better person and he gave incredible strength to my older son, Jack.”
It’s that strength that may be responsible for their older son, Jack, being alive today.
“My older son is very sick,” said Jack. “But I think he derives his strength from his little brother. Connor had 15 operations at the Connecticut Children’s medical center and had to be awake every couple of hours his entire life. My son Jack was forced to grow up fast while our family cared for his brother.”
You’d think the pain would end with the passing of Connor. Unfortunately, it didn’t. This is only part of their story.
Their son Jack graduated from Assumption College with all kinds of honors. He was inducted into two National Honor Societies and played nine intramural sports at college.
Soccer captain. Lacrosse captain. Countless state championship wins under his belt. Great looking kid. Absolutely crushing life.
Then, at 24-years-old, life crushed HIM. Tragedy hit the family again.
“He was coming home from work with headaches all the time,” said Jack. “He had five sports concussions, so we just assumed it was from that.”
One day they found their son throwing up in his room, unable to get up. They rushed him to the E.R.
“Doctors said there was something wrong in his head. It turns out he had a brain tumor.”
And just like that, this star athlete who had life by the balls had his life destroyed. He had to undergo brain surgery.
“He was shadowboxing me in the elevator on the way to the surgery and told me ‘don’t worry, dad, I’ve got this’ before going in,” said Jack.
They cut open his head for eight hours. He was awake the entire time. Doctors had him singing “take me out to the ballgame”, chatting and doing math problems during the surgery. The purpose was to take out as much of the tumor as they could without damaging his ability to function in life.
At the end of the surgery, doctors said they took out as much as they could… but couldn’t get it all because it would have taken away major life functions from their son.
Six weeks later, he was still recovering, in speech therapy and trying to remember who he was.
A year later, he was back at work. Back teaching sports. Going to the followup appointments and following doctors’ orders.
And then the tumor returned with a vengeance.
He started going through chemo and radiation, which ravaged his body.
Doctors at Dana Farber in Boston recommended a photon radiation that would kill cancer cells and leave more of the brain cells alive. Other doctors supported the directive.
Guess who didn’t? Insurance companies. Rejection after rejection.
Finally, facing having to sell their home to afford the treatment that insurance wouldn’t cover, a doctor advised the parents not to. He told them it was very possible that the treatment wouldn’t work… and then not only would they still be facing the tumor, but they’d be doing so while homeless.
“I was a cop. I love my job. When I went into it in 1981, we started at $14,000 a year. Although salaries have crept up and I love my job, I never went into it thinking I’m gonna make a lot of money doing this. I did it because my heart was there and it was a job I loved. So it’s not like I had two hundred thousand dollars sitting in the bank that I could say ‘here I want to pay for this treatment’.”
They underwent other forms of treatment. And while their son is still alive, he still battles the disease and side effects so debilitating that he can barely function at times.
“We live not knowing. Would he be in a better place if we had sold our house and paid for the treatment?”
Finally, facing extreme financial hardship, Jack and his wife caved to the demands of their friends that they be open to some fiscal support.
Jack found that support in Amy’s Angels. It was founded in Simsbury, Connecticut by a man named Bob who lost his cousin Amy to breast cancer.
While Amy was battling the disease, her family quickly realized that the financial struggles associated with the illness were much greater than anybody anticipated. They started a fund to help her.
Amy’s life was taken quickly by the disease, but her legacy lives on through her cousin Bob and this organization.
Bob realized there’s a gap in the charity base for those who find themselves in the same position Amy did. It can be difficult to find quick support when people dealing with illnesses suddenly face overwhelming financial hurdles.
Those money problems are, of course, in addition to the mental and physical and psychological effects of dealing with a loved one who is either involved in a tragic accident or gets diagnosed with a serious disease.
The organization, which started five years ago, is made up of all volunteers – there are no paid employees. They are nimble and quick in answering the call to help. From short term needs, such as paying for medicine or helping with living expenses, to helping people with long-term battles, they truly are angels.
Angels that helped Jack and his family.
“One of my friends ran a very successful business in the city of Hartford. He was talking to an attorney and he was telling them our situation with our son. And the attorney told him about this brand-new organization helping people like us,” said Jack.
He said the process was fast, thanks to their board of directors.
“You submit like a one-page application that they review and process and then they decide where they can help you or not help you,” he said. “For us it worked out and now we’ve had a longer-term rewarding relationship with the organization to the point where now my wife and I volunteer to help other people at all their events.
It helps knowing that 98% of the money raised goes back out to support families.
Amy’s Angels is just one of countless organizations helping families across America. But sometimes just as important as knowing there are groups out there providing fiscal support is the knowledge that you’re not alone.
“The day of the surgery, my son came up to me at 4:00 a.m. in the kitchen. He said ‘you know, dad, I never hurt anybody in my life. I always want to help people. Why am I being punished?’ And I’m like you’re not being punished. It’s just stuff happens in life. And then you deal with it but we’re gonna deal with this. We’re gonna do it as a family,” said Jack.
Family. Family is everything.
To those of you reading this who are struggling with health challenges, you need to know that you aren’t the only family with a sick child – although it may feel that way.
You’re not the only family with a son or a daughter battling a disease or struggling with autism or learning disabilities.
There are so many others like you that are struggling and aren’t talking about it. But sometimes that knowledge can bind families together and help give them hope and faith.
“You know, my whole life, the happiest I’ve ever been is with my kids. I mean even with everything that’s going wrong. The happiest moment of my whole life was the birth of the boys,” said Jack.
And that, Jack says, is something all parents can relate to.
“It’s a different love for your children. Most parents would give up their life for their child in a second if it meant saving their child. And I would change places with my son in a heartbeat. But that’s not how it works. And you can’t do that.”
It’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help. Or to share your story.
Because I promise you, there are a million other people out there right now feeling alone. Feeling like their story is unique.
And if nothing else… it’s good to have a support network that you can talk to and can pray for you, much like we at Law Enforcement Today will continue to do each and every day.