What do you do with 11,100 days? If you are Andrew Paukstitus, the short answer, is everything.
But some of you need a little back story. Andrew was born with a life threatening heart condition - Congenital Heart Disease. He had 7 open heart surgeries throughout his life. I knew from the beginning that he would probably die before I did. So I adopted a philosophy for us to live by. That philosophy was very simple - live life.
Andrew was never told to slow down or not try a new activity. Some people thought he was lazy - not true. He was just conserving the energy he DID have in order to do more things. Someone once asked me why he was cranky and I said because you feel better on your worst day than he feels on his best day. But, he did not know that because that was his normal. He never said he didn't feel well because of his heart and he never complained about his heart condition. Now, if he had a hangnail or stubbed his toe he complained long and loud. Andrew lived life at 90 miles an hour because he needed to fit 80 years of life into those 11,100 days, and that is exactly what he did. His sister, Megan, often said he had FOMO or fear of missing out. I think he actually had a fear of not getting to do everything he wanted to do. There has always been a savings account in my heart where I deposit all of Andrew's events and experiences. Not just special things like trips but normal things like going to baseball games, riding a bike, and sledding in the snow. The savings account in my heart was always being filled. When Andrew was 4 years old, he went to Boston Children's Hospital for his fifth surgery, he was walking the halls recovering and the nurses asked him to visit a little girl who had recently had her first heart surgery. She was sad and depressed. Her parents were at their wits end. The little girl would not get out of her bed, she would not go to the playroom. Andrew went right in to visit her and within about 10 minutes she was out of that bed and they were heading down to the playroom. That is the Andrew effect. Andrew could not do lots of things his friends could do. He could not keep up when his friends played tag or running games. Instead of complaining or saying he was tired, he just pretended to trip and fall down to take a break. He of course, could not play sports. He found fascinating ways to compensate. He made friends with two amazing athletes and basked in their success, going to their games and tournaments. He was not a great student but he was extremely proud of his sister, Megan and bragged about her. He pretty much took credit for her becoming a cardiovascular intensive care nurse.
For his 21st birthday, Andrew wanted to go to LA to celebrate with his dear friend Molly and her then boyfriend, soon to be husband, Omar. Omar took to Andrew immediately and they had a blast. The reason that was so amazing is that Andrew was very sick at the time. His heart was failing and he needed a new valve. Was he too sick to fly across the country? Would he get worse while he was there, so far away from the doctor who knew how to take care of him? Who knew, but it was one more thing to go into my savings account. So, with permission from his amazing cardiologist, Karen Kuehl, off he went. Andrew was not the perfect person or patient. He didn't follow the rules and he did everything on his own terms. He lost things all the time, his keys, his wallet, his phone and on one particularly memorable occasion, his car. Really, he lost his car. This happened in DC. He hunted for it until he was exhausted and then he took an Uber car home. He went back the next day and found it. You may not know this but he invented the photobomb. In 1998 we were invited to my good friend Libby's son Kevin's wedding. Somehow, Andrew is in their formal family wedding photos. People still look at those photos and say " who is that kid?". Fast forward to 2011. We were all invited to Andrew's cousin Emily's wedding. Once again Andrew is in the formal family wedding photos. When Jack told him those were just for family, he replied " I am family!". In 2009, I was very lucky to be able to get a house on the water at Lake Anna. My reasons were entirely selfish. I knew that if there was a place Andrew and Megan would want to come and bring their friends, that I would get to see them and their friends much more. So there were epic parties for holidays, birthdays and just regular weekends. I cannot tell you how much joy my children and their friends brought me. There are many adjectives that describe Andrew. Words like, enthusiastic, exasperating, loud, magnetic, endearing, feisty, exhausting, unforgettable and brave. Andrew, never gave up, never gave in and never stopped doing what he wanted to do. And that is what Andrew did with 11,100 days! Thank you.
Martha (Andrew's Mother)
In Loving Memory of Andrew Paukstitus. Fly High. You are with us always.