Friday, January 19, 2018

Westchase community rallies for former Alonso catcher battling cancer

WESTCHASE — The communities of Westchase and Alonso High School are rallying around former Ravens baseball player Andrew Abbott, a college student battling Stage 4 Hodgkin's Lymphoma, which was diagnosed in April.

Westchase residents, former Alonso baseball teammates and members of his University of Central Florida fraternity, Phi Delta Theta, have been actively involved in fundraising to help defray Abbott's medical expenses.

The latest effort is a car wash set for 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday (Sept. 23) at 7-Eleven, 12049 W Linebaugh Ave., a few miles from Abbott's Brentford neighborhood in Westchase.

"We've watched Andrew grow up, excel in baseball and go on to college,'' said Michelle Turner, one of the event organizers and a neighbor of the Abbott family. "We want to help any way we can. The people who know him well are obviously pitching in. But the amazing thing is so many people who don't know him are picking up the ball and running with it.''

Abbott was a four-year varsity player at catcher for the Ravens, sometimes getting tips from his uncle, Donnie Scott, a former major-league catcher. At Alonso, Abbott worked with pitchers such as Detroit Tigers first-round pick Alex Faedo, the Most Outstanding Player at the College World Series for the University of Florida Gators, and Jordan Butler, now a UF freshman.

Abbott, 20, opted not to pursue baseball in college after graduating from Alonso in 2015. Instead, he is on track for a degree in physical therapy at UCF. His long-term goal is to help others.

But last April, he needed help of his own. While finding no immediate remedy after grappling with back and shoulder pain, X-rays indicated he had cancer.

"That's when our world changed,'' said Tony Abbott, Andrew's father.

Since the initial diagnosis, doctors at the Moffitt Cancer Center have administered two types of chemotherapy, while trying to shrink the tumorous mass across Abbott's chest, just beneath his rib cage.

Doctors were not satisfied with his progress and recommended different treatment through clinical trials. The plan was for Abbott and his mother, Susie, a registered nurse, to relocate to Houston or New York.

Now Abbott's course has changed. Through a recommendation from his mother's supervisor, Abbott is working with Mark Mogul, the director of pediatric hematology oncology at St. Joseph's Hospital, who has prescribed a more aggressive treatment that he said has more success in younger patients.

Ironically, after the connection was made, Abbott's family learned they only lived about a mile away from Mogul in the Westchase community.

"We have a lot of hope and Dr. Mogul has been fantastic,'' said Abbott's father. "Of course, Andrew is such a fighter and he has been approaching this with such a positive mindset. He's determined to beat it.

"He played baseball for such a long time. He has always been very dedicated to fitness and working out in the gym. I think these things help. He has so much mental toughness and he's fighting back.''

Abbott's older brother, Anthony, told his father he was confident because he believed that Andrew was the toughest of the family's four kids and the best-equipped to battle the disease.

Three weeks after a round of chemotherapy treatment, Abbott will undergo a PET scan to measure the size of the tumor.

"We're very optimistic and the support from everyone has helped tremendously,'' Abbott's father said. "Andrew is a fun kid to be around and he has so many friends. There's a GoFundMe account set up for him and we don't even know 80 percent of the people who have contributed. Andrew just has a way of connecting with people.

"I think he would prefer to not be getting any attention, but I know all the love and support means the world to him and our entire family. We're overwhelmed by what people are doing, whether it's the car wash, the donations or all of their thoughts and prayers. I think it just adds to the determination to beat this thing.''

Determination is a familiar quality for Abbott, according to his former Raven teammates.

"Andrew was definitely one of the better guys to have in our dugout,'' said former Alonso pitcher/infielder Mason Turner, now playing for Hillsborough Community College. "Whether it was the weight room or the field, he loved to push the boundaries and he pushed all of us, too.

"When I heard what he was going through, I was surprised and shocked because he has always taken care of his body. We all feel empathy for him and can't imagine the struggle and suffering he is going through. So that's why we all want to do whatever we can to help. He's part of our brotherhood in Alonso baseball and we all stick together for each other.''

Contact Joey Johnston at [email protected]

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