RALEIGH, N.C. – National Agents Alliance President and Chief Executive Officer Andy Albright presented Duke Children’s Hospital with a donation toward research and care for children with special illnesses during NAA’s “Be Your Own Rock Star” Leadership Conference on July 22.
Albright also presented a check to the family of Benjamin Byers, a special guest who is a four-year-old boy with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.
Byers and his family thanked NAA for its generosity, while Albright provided some humor for the thousands in attendance when he helped Brody Byers, Benjamin’s younger brother, “attempt” to play a trumpet on stage. Brody appeared to be more interested in eating the trumpet than playing it.
Albright, who proudly supports the efforts of the Children’s Miracle Network and Duke Children’s Hospital, said stories like Byers reinforce just how important it is to support organizations that help people in times of great need.
“That has to be one of the worst things a parent could hear from a doctor about their child,” Albright said. “To see Benjamin on stage with his parents and brother and sister just smiling and being happy was awesome. With the help of Duke Children’s Hospital, we believe Benjamin will enjoy a healthy life. We’re very proud to help support the work that Duke and the Children’s Miracle Network do each day. We’d also like to thank the Byers family for visiting with us at our event.”
Robyn Soffera, director, annual programs, stewardship and communications with Duke Children’s Hospital, was on stage to accept the donation from NAA. Soffera informed the audience that nearly 150,000 “little” pairs of feet walk through the doors of Duke Children’s Hospital in Durham, N.C.
“The support we receive from the community is vitally important to the work we do at Duke Children’s Hospital and Health Center,” Soffera said. “Without the generosity of individuals and corporations like National Agents Alliance we could not embark on research endeavors, stay on the cutting-edge of care or provide the special touches that make a visit to Duke Children’s special for our patients. The health of our children depends on everyone getting involved in whatever way they can. We are grateful for NAA’s support.”
After presenting a check to Duke Children’s Hospital for $5,000 and a special check to the Byers family, Albright took Benjamin and Brody up to a pair of drum sets on a stage riser. With some special assistance from DJ Billy Chavis, the Byers brothers played the drums for the crowd.
Shortly after, the two brothers exited the stage to a standing ovation.
Byers’ sickness began on a family to Disneyland. He started coughing and came down with a severe fever, similar to the symptoms of his cousin, who was also on the trip. Several days later, Byers’ condition had not improved.
After a visit to a pediatrician and taking an antibiotic, Byers began feeling better. After appearing to be healthy, Byers started to amass several strange bruises on his face, ears and fingers.
Kimberly Rost, Byers’ mother, feared the worst.
On Feb. 3, 2010, Byers was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the blood.
“Nothing can prepare you for the words, and I cry every time I think back to that day ‘our world’ was changed forever,” Rost said. “That was the day our world changed because we found out our son was sick.”
Byers’ parents turned to Duke Children’s Hospital based on the recommendation of Byers’ pediatrician. Doctors found that 97 percent of Byers’ blood was saturated with cancer, so doctors quickly started replenishing Byers’ blood with platelet transfusions, endured chest x-rays, blood tests and the Duke team devised a treatment plan that included surgery.
Byers spent six weeks in the hospital, went through a series of treatment while his parents watched as it took a toll on their son. It was the most intense part of a three-year-plan to help Byers become cancer-free.
“Whenever it was almost too much for us to bear, someone from the Duke Children’s team was always there,” Rost said. “The smiles from the doctors’ faces on day 28 proved that our prayers had been answered. (Benjamin) was in remission and he was going to get to go home.”
At the end of those six weeks, Byers was back acting like most children his age – including his brother Brody.
Today, Benjamin can be seen running around his yard with his three-year-old brother or climbing way up high on the playground yelling to the world, “I am not a little boy, but a big boy, and I am fighting cancer!” After all that he has endured, he is just a typical four-year-old boy.
“We are so lucky to live so close to Duke and we are very thankful for that,” Rost said.
About Duke Children’s Hospital & Health Center:
Duke Children’s Hospital & Health Center, located in Durham, N.C., is nationally ranked among the best in pediatric health care programs. Caring for children is our number one priority, from routine check-ups and immunizations to the treatment of life-threatening injuries and illnesses. At Duke Children’s, we provide hope and the most advanced health care available. Offering innovative procedures including stem cell and bone marrow transplants as well as a variety of support services for our patients and their families, Duke Children’s cares for children from around the world. We are also a critical local resource – taking care of 60 percent of Durham’s children with more than 70 percent of patients coming from central North Carolina. For more information please visit www.dukechildrens.org.
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