Although she had valiantly fought cancer since the age of four, Abby Furco was finally losing her battle. Tragically, doctors had given the youngster – who was still only nine years old – just two days to live. And aware of the short time that they had left with Abby, her family gathered around her bedside in order to say their goodbyes. But just as it seemed that the little girl was ultimately succumbing to her illness, she opened her eyes – and said something that took her parents’ breath away.
Abby lives in Virginia Beach, Virginia, with her mom Patty, dad Joe, older sister Maggie and little sister Emily. And the girl appears to be much like any other child her age, with particular passions for summer camp, reading and baking for her loved ones. Abby isn’t quite so keen, though, on math – her most hated school subject.
But getting to grips with algebra pales into insignificance when compared to what else Abby had to battle with. Sadly, you see, the youngster had been diagnosed with cancer in 2011 at the tender age of four. In particular, Abby had an uncommon form of the disease, known as Philadelphia Chromosome positive acute lymphoblastic leukemia. And unlike many cancers, that particular variant cannot be treated with the usual chemotherapy drugs.
Abby’s prognosis didn’t look good, either; much to her family’s anguish, there was only a 20 percent likelihood of her pulling through. And mom Patty recalled the moment that her life fell apart in a 2014 YouTube video for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, struggling to rein in her tears during her emotional testimony.
Abby’s mother said, “The day Abby was diagnosed will be in my mind forever. Dr. Wessler introduced himself as a hematologist-oncologist, and his first words were, ‘Your daughter Abigail has leukemia.’ And after that, I heard nothing else of what he said.” Patty opened up about Abby’s diagnosis, too, during a 2017 interview with People.
Of that distressing period, the mom told the magazine, “We were devastated… We were basically told that [Abby] was going to die. There was very little hope.” And dad Joe gave his own take on the situation to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, saying, “We didn’t know what to expect. It’s not something that anybody could ever prepare for.” Unfortunately, then, family life was about to change dramatically for the Furcos.
For starters, Abby would now spend most of her time in hospital. And as she turned from four to five to six, her life was consumed with trying to fight the cancer. Abby also had a bone marrow transplant and underwent experimental treatment – although always with her family at her side.
Patty added to People, “We kept [Abby] surrounded by love because we knew at any moment we could lose her. There were moments we didn’t know if she’d pull through; she had so many infections that could have ended her life. All we could do was watch her fight and try to get better.”
Recalling this challenging time in her life, in 2017 Abby would tell Portsmouth, Virginia-based NBC affiliate WAVY-TV, “There were lots of new and scary things to me, and I was only four years old so I didn’t understand most of this. I was still kind of new to even going in to get just, like, your normal kid check-ups… It was super scary.”
But thankfully, after responding well to treatment, Abby got better in 2013 – meaning she was finally able to return to normal life. And for one special year, she attended school, spent time with her friends and went to soccer practice without having to worry about heading to the hospital. Just like other kids her age, Abby even signed up to the Girl Scouts. Cruelly, though, this return to normalcy was relatively short-lived.
Heartbreakingly, Abby’s leukemia returned in September 2014, leaving her family with the prospect of losing their little one once more. And having Abby diagnosed with cancer for a second time felt like a particularly hard blow to the Furcos.
Patty went on to explain to People, “As hard as that first diagnosis was, this one tested every ounce of our being.” Revealing how the return of the cancer had affected Abby, the mom added, “She became completely immobile. Any movement hurt her, and she hardly spoke.” To add to that, an operation was on the horizon.
In order to treat the leukemia, you see, it was decided that Abby needed a second bone marrow transplant. She therefore underwent the procedure at Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago before transferring to Duke Children’s Hospital in North Carolina. Yet even following the surgery, Abby’s prospects looked grim – as things took a devastating turn for the worse.
Yes, following her transplant, Abby experienced a number of serious complications. In February 2015, for example, she contracted graft-versus-host disease, which occurs when white blood cells inside the donated bone marrow start to fight the transplant patient’s normal cells. Terrifyingly, the condition’s symptoms include skin blemishes, diarrhea and harm to the liver. And the worries didn’t end there.
In May 2016 Abby’s kidneys began to fail because of the procedures that she’d undergone to fight her cancer, leading to her being admitted to hospital once more. But on this occasion, doctors had awful news: there was nothing more that they could do for the little girl.
So, Abby entered intensive care, needing dialysis around the clock. Abby’s doctors warned Patty and Joe, in fact, that she would only survive for two days or so if taken off the dialysis machine. And faced with the worst, the ten-year-old’s parents began planning for her eventual passing.
Patty later explained to People, “Doctors told us it was time to let [Abby] go, [as] she was only awake for, like, an hour each day… We began preparing our other daughters for her death.” And so Patty and Joe made the no doubt agonizing decision to remove Abby from intensive care and bring her home.
In the comfort of her own house in Virginia, Abby could live out her final days with friends and family. Her grandparents took a flight, too, so that they could say one final farewell to their grandchild. And in the meantime, Patty and Joe began thinking ahead to Abby’s funeral, choosing songs, flowers and even a casket.
Yet Abby was seemingly determined to cling to life with every fiber of her being. In 2017 Joe told Norfolk, Virginia-based CBS affiliate WTKR, “While we had dozens of people in the house, Abby found a moment of quiet one time – individually to both mom and to me – and said in a very soft voice, ‘I know I’m supposed to die, [but] I don’t think I’m going to yet.’”
Naturally, this period was especially difficult for Abby’s sisters, Maggie and Emily, who were still too young to understand what was happening. In 2016 Patty told The Virginian-Pilot, “We just talked to the girls and told them that we would always be together – or at least our souls would be.”
But it was then that Abby did something that would surprise everyone: she came round. And not only that, but she also started to get better. A delighted Patty told People, “We couldn’t believe it. In a matter of days, weeks [and] months, [Abby] started walking and getting stronger.”
It seemed, then, that Abby had defied the odds – a recovery that Patty would go on to label as “an absolute miracle” during her conversation with People. While speaking to The Virginia-Pilot, the mom added, “The doctors have no idea what happened. One of them told me that in over 25 years he’d never seen anything like it.”
Meanwhile, Abby’s dad Joe told WTKR, “Medically speaking, Abby should not be with us anymore… Abby thumbed her nose at the medical profession in this respect and said, ‘Thank you for your opinion, I’ll see you guys in a couple of months, or a couple of years’ and has been continuing on.”
Even Abby’s doctor, Jacob Wessler, was shocked by the youngster’s recovery. In fact, it had been his team that had told the Furcos to expect the worst. Wessler outlined the situation to People, saying, “[Abby] was very, very sick. And her body was shutting down slowly, and her organs weren’t working correctly anymore, and every intervention was just making her worse.”
Wessler continued, “We told Patty and Joe there was nothing else we could do; the only foreseeable outcome was that Abby was going to die. [So] we helped her get home [for hospice care]. But when we started backing off, taking away treatments so [that Abby] wasn’t on so many meds, she started getting better all on her own.”
And while Abby’s recovery had proven all the medical experts wrong, Wessler appeared to be happy to eat his words on this occasion. He said of his patient, “She’s had ups and downs, but if she continues on this path, she is going to make us all look like fools!… She’s defied every single odd.”
Furthermore, while Wessler couldn’t explain Abby’s recovery in scientific terms, he speculated that the youngster’s zest for life may have helped. And the girl’s will to keep going was evident in the seven little words that she told her parents after coming round.
Patty revealed those exact words to People, saying, “[Abby] told us, ‘I have so much living to do.’” And following the stunning improvement in Abby’s health, her family subsequently decided to take life by the horns. Patty added, “We’ve stopped asking why she’s made this recovery and just started looking to her future.”
Shortly after Abby got better, then, she got to attend summer camp. In particular, she went to Camp Fantastic in Front Royal, VA, which hosts 100 children a year who’ve been touched by cancer. At the location, the kids can enjoy a full week of fun partaking in a range of activities.
And while recalling her time at Camp Fantastic, Abby told The Virginia-Pilot, “I had lots of fun classes.” These included dancing and crafting a stuffed toy carrier using duct tape. So, needless to say, Abby was feeling a lot healthier after coming so close to a tragic end.
Then, when the youngster got home from summer camp, she prepared to return to school. Abby had been homeschooled before her cancer battle with the help of a tutor from Red Mill Elementary School in Virginia Beach. And despite all the disruption she’d encountered, she’d somehow managed to keep up and could begin fifth grade on time.
In the meantime, Abby also had a course of physical therapy, relearning how best to walk and climb stairs following her ordeal. Explaining the exercises to The Virginia-Pilot, Abby said, “I’m trying to get stronger after being in bed for so long.”
For Patty, though, given everything that her daughter had been through, it was important that Abby eased her way back into regular life slowly. As she went on to explain to The Virginia-Pilot, “With school starting, we’re settling into a routine… We’re just taking it one day at a time.”
Then, when Abby was finally well enough, her family decided it was time to start living life to the full – beginning with a bucket-list trip to Italy. Interestingly, Abby had fallen in love with the country when working on a project about it in second grade. And when the brave girl was at death’s door, she had been devastated that she’d never get to see Italy in person.
All things being better now, Abby’s family whisked her off on a whistlestop tour of Italy. The Furcos traveled the length and breadth of the country, in fact, stopping at cities including Naples, Venice and Rome. And while in Florence, the wannabe chef took two cooking lessons, learning how to make Italian classics such as tiramisu and pizza.
Then, one year after Abby’s family were told that she was dying, the inspirational little girl completed fifth grade. And in an even more positive development, she was also in remission – although she still relied on taking steroids. That said, Abby’s prognosis was not clear, meaning her future remained somewhat up in the air.
Even through Abby’s highs and lows, her relatives were all too aware of how valuable every moment with her was. For the time being, though, the youngster just wants to focus on living. As Patty told People, “[Abby] just wants to be a normal kid and hang out with friends and go to school. Her zest for life is just amazing.”
And given all that she’s been through at a tender age, Abby was made an ambassador for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation – an organization that aims to raise the money required for research into childhood cancers. Still, Abby’s life is now about much more than her illness. For starters, in May 2019 she appeared on stage in a school production of Annie Jr. In addition, she dreams of one day opening her own eatery – one in which she would be the chef.
Revealing what gets her through her challenges, Abby told WAVY-TV, “You have to have that perseverance and positive mindset to know that you just have to do it one day at a time, one hour at a time, one minute at a time [and] one second at a time. You’ve got to take it slowly and hope that you can make it to tomorrow.”
With this attitude, it seems like the sky is the limit for Abby now that she’s been given her future back. And as her family knows all too well, practically anything is possible when it comes to the determined little girl. After all, as her mom, Patty, put it to People, “We watched her die and come back to life. Now we’re looking to the future.”