His name meant “Gift from God,” and he truly was.
Though little Matthew McGrorty was only here for a short while, he touched the lives of many with his strength, resolve and spirit. His memory lives on to this day in the generous donation – for the second year – of thousands of dollars, DVD players and movies to the hospital where he received treatment.
The electronics were hand delivered by about a dozen uniformed members of the 102nd Precinct – and both the parents’ and the children’s eyes lit up when they saw the NYPD.
“It was overwhelming and humbling, but at the same time very uplifting,” said Community Affairs Officer John McCoy, who was moved to tears.
It was in early 2007 that Matthew’s parents, Lieutenant John McGrorty of the 102nd Precinct and wife Carol, a teacher, first noticed that something was wrong with the four year old. His twin sister, Ashlynn, had had a fever and an earache, and when Matthew developed a temperature, they brought him to the doctor.
Matthew did not have an ear infection, but the parents did ask the pediatrician about the boy’s distended belly. He was sent for a sonogram immediately, and after some additional testing, it was determined in April of that year that Matthew had Stage 4 Hepatoblastoma, or liver cancer. The disease had also spread to his lungs.
The McGrortys were told the condition was very rare.
“One child in every 1.5 million born will develop [the disease],” John told The Courier. “So Matt was literally one in a million. The odds of surviving five years are less than 30 percent.”
Devastated, John immediately set to researching and learning as much as he could about his son’s condition and possible treatments. He was in touch with doctors literally all over the world – and even faxed his son’s medical records to Israel.
“When you’re fighting for your child’s life, the only thing a parent can do is be there – be the biggest and best advocate for his health care,” John said.
The McGrortys brought Matthew to Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York, where he underwent treatment, including chemotherapy.
“Matt took his chemo well and just kept on going,” said mom Carol.
A precious, engaging child, his parents said he adapted to everything he had to deal with.
“He would tell us, ‘I done’ when he finished his chemo,” said Carol. “He would ride his bike with his tubes and say, ‘Look at my tubies.’”
While undergoing treatment, Matt’s “favorite thing was his DVD player,” said his dad. “He watched the ‘Blues Clues’ DVD so many times he wore it out.”
“He was fabulous, brave, strong, a fighter,” said his nurse, Jill Loftus.
During that time, a blood drive was organized, said John. Usually, he said, between 50 to 100 pints are collected, but that day, 350 people donated blood.
“Every pint means four kids can get a transfusion,” said John. “People waited outside for hours [to donate].”
Unfortunately, after 15 months of treatment, Matthew passed away – two days after Father’s Day.
“He was an amazing little boy,” said John. “Up until the last day he was trying to play.”
In fact, Matthew gave his dad a final Father’s Day present.
He had plans to play golf, but Matthew had been running a fever, so his father was ready to cancel. However, at the last minute, Matt’s fever broke, so his dad played 18 holes, and when he got back home, Matthew asked to play outside.
Through it all, said John, his colleagues at the New York Police Department were there for him, his wife, and their two other children, Ashlynn, 5 and Sean, 7..
“There’s no job more supportive than the NYPD,” he said. “Especially the guys here [at the 102nd Precinct]. They did everything they possibly could to help.”
“We were basically both able to go to every treatment Matt got,” said John. “The support we got was overwhelming.”
On Wednesday, December 2, members of the 102 handed out 80 DVD players and tons of movies to the children at Columbia Presbyterian. Twenty more players will be given to Winthrop Hospital on Long Island, where Matthew was born and later diagnosed.
“To get all those DVDs [donated], it’s touching,” said John.
“I think this is pretty good,” said a dad, whose four-year-old daughter, Aminta, was undergoing treatment for leukemia.
One mother, Rose, cried when her son Isaiah, 10, was given the gift.
In addition to the electronics, monies raised by local businesses and Maria A. Thomson of the 102nd Precinct Community Council at the annual golf outing in Matthew’s memory were donated to Hope & Heroes Children’s Cancer Fund at Columbia Presbyterian. And, a $5,000 check was given to Dr. Darrell Yamashiro for tumor research relating to Matthew’s disease.
But despite seeing familiar faces and brightening the days of the patients and their families, going back is not easy for the McGrortys – but it is something they relish.
“One of the things I learned through the whole thing,” said John “is that we’ve been surrounded by people who have supported and continue to support my family.”