NEWBURYPORT — An 8-year-old boy’s courageous battle with cancer has won him a special honor from the Jimmy Fund.
Patrick Skiba has been selected as one of the new faces of the Jimmy Fund Little League. Having survived a battle with leukemia since the age of 2, Patrick will appear in promotional materials for the Jimmy Fund, which raises money to combat childhood cancer.
Patrick was diagnosed just a few months after his second birthday, according to his mother, Candi Skiba. As the summer of 2008 turned to fall, Patrick became easily tired and lethargic. He suffered seemingly random bruises without being injured, which soon gave way to dark, spotted skin. Before Skiba and her husband Chris could make sense of the situation, he had developed a limp.
Invisible even to his doctors, a defect in Patrick’s bone marrow was causing his white blood cell count to skyrocket, crowding out the healthy red blood cells and platelets that should have been delivering oxygen and healing his body. Every minor bump became a ghastly bruise, and Patrick was running out of time.
“I did not know how he had gotten that injury, so I thought, ‘OK, what’s going on?’” Skiba said. “Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that it was leukemia.”
Local emergency doctors found nothing and told them to visit his pediatrician. Two days later, Patrick was unable to support his own weight.
That September, Patrick was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia and admitted to Boston Children’s Hospital. In six weeks, he had about 25 blood transfusions in an effort to revive his failing body.
“They just blast you with really intense meds. They push you to the brink, your immune system is so non-existent,” Skiba said. But Patrick bore the treatments with surprising grace. “He’s just naturally a disciplined person, he always has been.”
But his parents needed the same discipline.
“It’s particularly painful with a child because of their innocence. As a parent, you want to protect your child, who hasn’t seen anything of life yet. You really can’t explain to a child why these kinds of things happen.”
By Oct. 15 of that year, Patrick’s cancer was declared “in remission”; still present, but not growing. Even so, he would undergo chemotherapy and other treatments for two more years. Patrick was transferred into outpatient care through Boston’s Dana Farber Cancer Institute, which is supported by the Jimmy Fund.
The fund ensures that children’s treatment is not, as Skiba puts it, “shadowed only by cancer.” Using games, famous athletes and child-focused programs, the Jimmy Fund both entertains children and puts money toward their treatment. Though Patrick needed four years of physical therapy to regain the ability to walk, he was buoyed up by the fund’s surprises throughout.
Now five years in remission, he’s well past the point where relapse might occur. As an official “survivor,” Patrick was selected to be a figurative “designated hitter” for the Jimmy Fund’s baseball Little League. He’s appeared on brochures, met sports legends and presented massive checks before baseball games.
Patrick has also tried to give back more directly: at the Yankee Homecoming Parade, he took $10 of his spending money and donated it to the Jimmy Fund. Skiba said he sees himself as part of a larger picture.
“I think he thinks he’s a little bit famous!” Skiba said. “He is growing up, as are his brothers [Joey and TJ], knowing that we’re lucky ... Thirty, 40 years ago, we wouldn’t have him.
“We’ve made it clear to the kids that we need to keep on supporting cancer research ... ‘The way that it happened to you, we want to keep that going.’”