Boy offers a lesson on how to beat the odds

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Tom Kirvan
Legal News, Editor-in-Chief

In a year punctuated by grim COVID-19 news of sickness, death, and mounting job loss, there is the occasional piece of hope to latch onto, even from a faraway small city in New Hampshire where a resilient young boy resides.

His name is Colt Verbeck, a 7-year-old boy I’ve never met and yet is someone who touched my heart when I first heard of his medical plight more than two years ago.

His story was first relayed by my sister Nancy, a retired  school teacher who spent the bulk of her career in overseas assignments. It was in Germany, at a U.S. Army base, she met Colt’s future mom, Emily, then a student teacher.

Emily, a native of the Granite State, was a basketball player of note during high school and college. Now, as a mother of three elementary age boys, she has a decidedly different focus.

“My boys are my life,” she says of Nash, Colt, and Clark, siblings ranging in age from 4 to 9 who developed a special bond over the past 25 months.

Their kinship has been cemented during Colt’s medical journey at Boston Children’s Hospital and adjoining Dana Farber Cancer Institute since 2018 when the words “Lymphoblastic Lymphoma” paid an unwelcome visit.

“Colt hadn’t been sick, but we noticed a persistent swollen gland on his neck that we eventually had looked at,” Emily says.

Following several medical exams over tthree months, a doctor decided to order a biopsy of the gland “just to be safe,” according to Emily.

Suddenly, their world was turned upside down.

“Cancer. As a parent, that word stops your world,” Emily says. “The breath is knocked out of you. There are absolutely no words that can summarize the terror, fear, and pain.

“Fortunately, we live 1.5 hours from one of the best medical centers in the world. We met with doctors at Dana Farber Cancer Institute and we were soon embarking on our 25-month journey towards a cure.”

It began with an intensive 45-day treatment “blast” designed to “knock the life out of the cancer.”

“It was brutal to see him experience something like that, especially at his age,” says Emily. “None of us were fully prepared for what he had to go through. It was devastating.”

And yet, somehow he survived, setting the stage for more cancer aftershocks.

Each Friday for two years, a medically fragile boy with a compromised immune system would undergo chemotherapy treatments, intravenous sessions in which a mix of cancer-beating cocktails were pumped into his bloodstream.

“In July of 2018, Colt had a severe allergic reaction to one of the chemo mixtures and ended up in the ICU with pancreatitis and had to be placed in a medically induced coma,” says Emily. “It was an incredibly scary time. We didn't know if he was going to make it.”

But after an extended hospital stay, make it he did, although with another medical hurdle to overcome—diabetes. “That poor kid just couldn’t catch a break,” says his mom. “To go through all that and then to develop diabetes because of the chemo was just too much to bear.”

In the meantime, cancer-causing agents were still hovering around. “The diabetes certainly complicated matters with the blood checks and insulin injections, but Colt still had to go to weekly chemo treatments,” Emily explains. “The schedule was unrelenting.”

“The first week after one of those treatments he would feel miserable, then he would have a week of recovery, and then he would have a week where he would feel fairly normal before starting the cycle all over again.”

His medical travails were a constant worry for family and friends. “He’s taken literally thousands of pills, had more than a 100 chemo treatments, and undergone 20-plus surgeries during this ordeal,” his mother says.  “The numbers are mind-boggling.”

Through it all, he has become “Colt Strong,”  a moniker he can share with his two brothers.

“We have ‘Nash Strong’ and ‘Clark Strong’ too, because they have been a huge part of the support network for Colt,” says Emily.  “He couldn’t have done it without the love and support of his brothers.”

Countless others deserve kudos too, says Emily, who has shouldered much of the load with the boys’ father, Chad. “People came out of the woodwork to help our family,” she says. “Prayers, meals, childcare, pet sitting, house cleaning, care packages, donations . . . you name it, people did it. It was so humbling to see the power of a community coming together to support us.”

As millions around the world observed Good Friday, Colt was officially proclaimed to be in remission. A parade in his honor featured some 80 cars,  fire trucks and police vehicles, a bicycle-pedaling school principal, and the Easter Bunny.
Colt had a front row seat for the one-of-a-kind event, watching from the front yard. Among the attendees were friends from Marsh & McLennan Agency, where Emily works as director of marketing. 

“I cannot say enough good things about MMA and how they have treated our family during this time,” says Emily. “They told us to put our family first, and they lived by that. I am so grateful for their leadership and commitment to treating their colleagues with such compassion and dignity.”

The same can be said for “all the nurses, doctors, technicians, and volunteers” at the hospital, says Emily. “They are all family now,” she says. “Always will be.”




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