Family, friends celebrate life of young hockey player claimed by rare medical condition
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — It’s easy to hear the love in Yancey Rushton’s voice as he talks about his 10-year-old son Drew and compares him to the likeable comic-strip character Dennis the Menace.
“He was always muddy, always playing in the dirt and playing in the snow,” Yancey said. “If you are old enough, like me, there was a character called Dennis the Menace.
“Drew, from the time he was born, has reminded me of Dennis the Menace,” Yancey explained. “There is not a meal that he eats that he doesn’t end up with food on his face or on the floor. He was always playfully messing around, and he was always into everything.”
In March, Yancey and his wife, Leigh, learned that Drew, their youngest son, was battling a rare condition called aplastic anemia where the body stops producing red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.
On Sunday afternoon, with his mom curled up in the bed beside Drew and his hockey trading cards nearby, Drew died peacefully from pulmonary veno-occlusive disease caused by aplastic anemia.
Drew Rushton at Children’s Hospital in Denver. (Photo courtesy of the Rushton family)
By Monday, the devastating news swept across the community impacting students at Soda Creek Elementary School where Drew was a fourth-grader and the Steamboat Youth Hockey Association where he played on the Steamboat Stampede’s Squirt A Team.
“It is with a heavy heart this morning that I share this news on behalf of the Rushton family,” Brian Ripley, the Steamboat Springs Youth Hockey Association’s director of hockey, wrote Monday in a letter to hockey families. “… Drew exhibited so much grit, courage, toughness and determination. He left this world very peacefully and entered the arms of his heavenly father.”
Yancey fought back tears as he remembered his youngest son as an outgoing, kind boy and promising young hockey player who loved the game, loved his brother Conner, his sister Anna and his parents.
“I don’t think you could find anybody who said he was ever mean to anybody,” Yancey said. “He didn’t care if he was on the ‘A’ Team or the ‘B’ Team. He was just one of those guys that didn’t cut anybody down or say anything negative about anybody.”
Yancey said Drew was thrilled last year when he was invited to play with the squirt’s “A” team, and despite a season filled with colds, flu and sore throats — not to mention having to match pace with older players — that love never faded.
At the time, he was dealing with the affects of aplastic anemia, but the family had no idea.
Yancey said Drew didn’t have the same energy level, and he was frequently sick and seemed to bruise easily — something that was not uncommon for a rambunctious 10-year-old who loved to roughhouse with his older brother and mix it up on the ice.
In March, Drew visited the nurse as Soda Creek after falling off of his bike. She was concerned about the excessive bruising and recommended the Rushtons take Drew to a local doctor for some blood tests. When the tests came back, the family was sent to Denver’s Children’s Hospital where doctors ran more tests and eventually diagnosed Drew with aplastic anemia.
Drew was treated with blood transfusions, and in June, he underwent a bone marrow transplant. His sister Anna was a perfect match, and the family had hoped that was a good sign. They hoped it would be a turning point for Drew.
But this fall, he developed pulmonary veno-occlusive disease — something he would not be able to overcome.
“As Christians, we are 100 percent at peace with where Drew is and that God’s plan is different for all of us,” Yancey said. “We don’t necessarily understand it, and it hurts. But we understand that Drew is a 10-year-old that entered the heaven completely free of sin. He lived life full and happy and not negative to anybody.
“The lesson to everybody would be to be nice to your neighbor, be nice to your community and not let life turn you into a sour person,” Yancey added.
Yancey said the family’s faith has been a blessing the past nine months as the family dealt with Drew’s health problems. Yancy and Leigh have been heavily involved in the hockey community and recently started the Vikings Hockey Team, which began as a tribute to Drew.
Drew spent a summer playing hockey in Denmark and billeted with a Danish family who called him their “Little Viking.” Using that theme and knowing that the Vikings were also sailors, Yancey named the Vikings team after Drew and his experience abroad.
Playing as a Viking comes with no financial burden, and the only expectation is that all players work as hard as they can, play with discipline and character and understand the history of the team and why it was formed and display the strength required to fight life’s battles.
Yancey plans to continue the team and grow it in the future.
“We miss him, and we hate it,” Yancey said. “But we believe that some good will come from it.”