It was any parent's worst nightmare. In August 2012, David and Kathy D'Onofrio's 16-year-old son, Thomas, was diagnosed with Gliomitosis Cerebri, a very rare and inoperable brain tumour.
Shaped like a spider web, it spreads across the entire brain. There no surgery that can remove it, no treatment that can cure it.
It changed Thomas' life dramatically. Upper body tremors, increased muscle and joint pain, and reduced memory make simple everyday tasks not so simple anymore. Medication has not been able to control the headaches. It affected many parts of his body, and even though he had struggles, Thomas finished his last two years at Glendale High School.
David said even though Thomas had amazing surgeons and specialists taking care of him at London Children's Hospital, due to the rarity of the tumour, the doctors have essentially done everything they can do for him.
"With Glimitosis Cerebri, due to its aggressive form, usually by the time the patient is diagnosed, that patient has either already passed away or is just months away from doing so. We are extremely fortunate and thank God each and every day, that Thomas is currently stable and we pray that he will remain this way for the rest of his life."
They also have to accept the reality that the tumour can turn aggressive at any given time.
"We enjoy each and every day, each and every holiday, each and every moment. Nothing is taken for granted."
With that in mind, however, if there was a chance to sacrifice anything for a better outcome, David said any parent of a sick child would take that chance.
Researching hospitals worldwide, the D'Onofrios discovered a hospital in Boston, and a couple others, but selected MD Anderson Cancer Centre in Houston, Texas.
"There's hope in the States. They've heard of it, there's stuff that they would like to try when... if it becomes aggressive. We're going on hope. We chose Houston because the company my wife used to work for has a big office in Germany, and a second office in Texas. They (GEA) offered my wife a working visa to move the whole family there. It's a miracle."
"They have the best of the best and if there is anything that can be offered to Thomas, MD Anderson will have the answers. We know that the tumour will never go away, that he will never be 100 per cent healthy, but if there is anything we can do to keep the tumour from turning aggressive, we will."
Having made that choice, Kathy left Tillsonburg for Houston in September 2014, and has lived with her employer's family. Her family – Thomas, Breanne, who still has three credits left to pick up at Glendale, and David – will follow this summer. They've got an apartment to rent starting May 1.
"My wife has been travelling home every six weeks for a weekend," said David. "It has been extremely hard for her, being away from all of us."
David had to quit his job at Autoneum in Tillsonburg last week, where he has worked for the past 20 years.
"They knew I had to quit – today or June, it didn't matter."
Their house was put up for sale two weeks ago, and sold last week.
"Come June 20th, I have to be out of the house. Thomas and Breanne will go live with grandma until we're ready to go, and I'm going to live with my friend Wayne. The 'golden day' is July 13th when my wife comes back with the visas and we move to Houston."
Due to US laws, David cannot work in the country for one-and-a-half years.
"Is it going to work? I can't answer that until we get there. But we have to make it work. We're selling everything we own – we're going with our clothes and a few boxes. The furniture's for sale, everything's for sale."
David said the union at Autoneum plans to donate money from a fundraiser to help offset moving costs, etc.
KELSEY'S KICKBACK NIGHT
Kelsey's Tillsonburg is contributing to the D'Onofrio family with a Kickback Night on Tuesday, May 26 (4-10 p.m.). Present a Kick Back card during the event and 10 per cent of the food purchases will be donated back to the family. Call ahead for reservations (519-688-7674).
"That's nice of them," David nodded.
A friend of the family also set up a GoFundMe account – Help The DOnofrio Family, which as of Thursday had raised $1,350 of its $8,000 goal (www.gofundme.com/letv1w).
MAKE A WISH
Thomas has one more MRI at London Children's Hospital, and a June 16 followup, but before that day, Thomas will have a wish come true.
"Make a Wish granted Thomas a wish... one more thing he would want in life if he could ever get a chance. Thomas wanted to go to Disney World as a family. He said, 'Dad, I want to go as a family. I want all four of us to go. That's my dream.
"Make a Wish is making that happen," said David, recalling the surprise announcement at Kelsey's Restaurant month ago.
"He was tickled pink, excited – I've never seen a bigger smile on his face."
The family of four leaves Saturday, May 2.
"My wife flies home this Friday, and I'll pick her up Saturday morning. Make A Wish will take us to Toronto airport. We'll fly out, stay at Disney World, and come back May 9th. Then my wife will fly back to Houston. She will come back June 20th... then she'll fly back again. Then she'll come back for the Golden Day, I think it's July 13. That's when we move."
Breanne will be finishing her last three Grade 12 credits at Glendale, staying with her grandmother, but it's unknown yet whether that will be first or second semester.
"I'm hoping she can pull it off here... I think she can do it."
Thomas has visited his mother in Texas for two weeks, and loves it.
"He wants to go – he really wants to go.
"It's going to be different," David admitted, looking forward to a new job in a couple years. "It's a new lifestyle. But we're four of us – we are a family.
"These fundraisers are going to help. It's going to help with the moving costs, the shipping. That kind of stuff. These people in the community have reached out to us, and I want thank everyone who has supported us. And I want to make everyone aware of what Make A Wish has done for us – as a family."