Elizabeth Burdick and her husband Jon had a hunch something wasn’t right with her 2-year-old son, Joey.
It was early August, and they had just moved to Montgomery, Ala., from Oklahoma, with Joey and his older brother Mikey, age 4. Their concern about Joey grew one day when he woke from a nap. “It was the bruises,” she said. “Toddlers get bruises. But these were different. We knew something was wrong.”
Elizabeth took Joey to the pediatrician, who ran a battery of tests. When his white blood cell counts came back exceedingly high, the doctor immediately sent them to the hospital. There, Joey was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, or AML, a type of cancer of the blood and bone marrow. In an instant, the Burdicks’ lives were upended.
Joey received chemotherapy and became extremely ill, but he soon went into remission and started feeling better. To prevent a relapse, his doctors recommended a bone marrow transplant a procedure that would be performed at Children’s of Alabama in Birmingham, an hour and a half away from their home.
The transplant would make Joey extremely susceptible to infection, so he would need to be near the hospital for about two months. In other words, Elizabeth and Joey needed to temporarily relocate to Birmingham.
But where would Elizabeth and Joey stay? The Burdicks considered a hotel, but the cost for two months would be staggering. That’s when they learned about aTeam Ministries.
Home away from home
aTeam Ministries is a Birmingham-based nonprofit organization that offers spiritual, emotional and financial support to children with cancer and their families, essentially filling the gap between treatments and home care needs. Its programs are supported through donations and gifts from organizations like Protective Life Corporation.
aTeam Ministries connects pediatric cancer families with volunteers who prepare food, send cards of encouragement, plan events or just pray for them during the group’s weekly Prayer Team meetings. aTeam Ministries also provides grants to cover household expenses like utility bills.
The nonprofit also has two apartments in close proximity to Children’s of Alabama through its Home Away from Home program. The apartments are cleaned, furnished and maintained specifically for pediatric cancer families in need of extended lodging while their child is receiving treatment.
These two-bedroom apartments give families the ability to cook their own food and do their own laundry without having to leave the apartment, and they don’t have to share communal spaces, a critical concern for many cancer patients.
The Home Away from Home program was a godsend to the Burdicks. The apartment also provided enough room for Elizabeth’s mother to come and assist with Joey’s care.
“I can’t express how grateful we are for an organization like aTeam Ministries,” Elizabeth said. “They rescued our family.”
Diagnosis affects the entire family
The founders of aTeam Ministries, Andy and Jan Thrower, know what the Burdicks were going through. Their son Anderson was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) when he was 16 months old. He beat the cancer and is now 11.
But Anderson’s disease affected their entire family, including their daughter Avery, 14. They formed aTeam Ministries because they felt called to help other families dealing with a pediatric cancer diagnosis.
“We saw how people comforted us when Anderson was sick, and we felt we should do the same for other people going through this journey,” Andy said. “We founded aTeam Ministries 10 years ago, and everything just sort of snowballed from there.”
The Burdicks are grateful for the organization and the support they’ve received from the Throwers. “Andy is just so happy. And Jan is so humble,” Elizabeth said. “They bring us so much joy and hope.”