5-Year-Old Boy Battling Cancer Meets Hero, Pitt’s James Conner

andrewPITTSBURGH, Pa. (EYT) – Five-year-old Andrew O’Neil, who is battling stomach cancer, recently had the opportunity to meet one of his heroes and favorite football players, Pitt Panthers running back James Conner, also a cancer survivor.

(Pictured above Matthew O’Neil, Andrew O’Neil, and James Conner)

Andrew is the son of Franklin native Jaime Hagerty O’Neil and Brian O’Neil. They, along with seven-year-old son Matthew, live in the Pittsburgh suburb of North Huntingdon.

Conner, who beat Hodgkin’s lymphoma and returned to the playing field this year, celebrated breaking the Atlantic Coast Conference touchdown record against Duke on November 19 with Andrew, who was his special guest at the game at Heinz Field.

Conner has 53 career touchdowns, 50 rushing, both ACC records.

During the post-game press conference, Andrew got to ask Conner a question.

“Is that the best record you ever broke?” Andrew said.

“I think so, I got a couple of Pitt records. I think that’s the best one. Good question,” Conner said to Andrew with a smile.

Conner also gave an autographed football from Saturday’s 56-14 win.

“He’s going through some things, so hopefully he got his mind off it for a little bit watching us play,” Conner said.

By the smile on Andrew’s face, it was obvious that he had enjoyed the day immensely.

In April 2015, Andrew was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a form of stomach cancer.

andrew o'neilSince then, he has had to endure several hours of surgery, radiation treatments, and countless needle pricks. The radiation can make eating and drinking difficult at times.

This weekend, Andrew and his family will spend time at Walt Disney World through the Make-A-Wish Foundation. A previous trip in September was cut short when Andrew got sick and had to be hospitalized.

Andrew has had to undergo a very aggressive treatment plan that included several rounds of inpatient chemotherapy to shrink the tumor, a major surgery, stem cell harvesting/transplant therapy, radiation, and maintenance retinoid therapy/immunotherapy. It is estimated that his entire treatment program will take at least 1 1/2 years to complete.

Andrew’s GoFundMe page Andrew’s Avengers GoFundMe was made by Andrew’s aunt Jill Hagerty Shull to help Andrew and his family be able to fight this battle with less financial burden and hardship, and the results have been remarkable with donors contributing more than $40,000.00 since last year.

Andrew has made progress with his treatment.

According to a post on his Facebook page, Andrew’s Avengers, Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia offered Andrew MIBG therapy. It’s a type of direct radiation to the tumor that is very promising, and his parents were hopeful it would give Andrew some pain relief. It is very well tolerated by most patients.

Only about 10 hospitals in the US offer it because it requires a special lead-lined room. The family had to endure staying away from Andrew for a week so they didn’t get radiated. Things went well, and Andrew was home in time for trick-or-treating and attending a few Penguins hockey games before getting the chance to share Conner’s big day with him.

Jamie relayed her thanks to everyone in the post, saying “We also want to say how amazed and humbled we are by the amount of support that we have received from our community and many, many others. Our hearts are beyond full from these numerous acts of generosity.”

“Please know how much this has helped our family (As mom, who had a great job I had to leave during Andrew’s illness, I am forever grateful of not having to worry about being home and spending invaluable time caring for and loving my son!) There are no words to describe how thankful we are for that!! Time is something that you can never get back, and we don’t want any regrets.”


(Photos courtesy of Linda Hagerty – grandmother of Matthew and Andrew)

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