Illness takes boy, but inspiration lives on

Andy Yost, 14, battled leukemia for years in hopes of returning to ice hockey

Leukemia takes teen, but inspiration lives on

December 30, 2005|By FREDERICK N. RASMUSSEN | FREDERICK N. RASMUSSEN,SUN REPORTER

Even though he was sidelined three years ago after being diagnosed with leukemia, Andy Yost refused to let the disease interfere with his enjoyment of playing hockey, his favorite sport.

As he struggled through painful bone marrow transplants and chemotherapy, he refused to abandon hope of getting back his health and returning to the ice.

Even in the depths of his illness, which he described to a coach as his "toughest game," Andy inspired his fellow Baltimore Youth Hockey players, as well as coaches and parents, with his courage and steadfastness.

Andrew C. Yost, who was 14 and lived in Glen Arm, died Wednesday at Duke University Hospital in Durham, N.C., where he had been recovering since undergoing a second bone marrow transplant in November.

Born in Baltimore and raised in Glen Arm and the Middleborough neighborhood in Essex, Andy was a graduate of St. Ursula Parochial School and had been accepted by Calvert Hall College High School. Because of his illness, he was home-schooled by Baltimore County public schools.

Andy discovered his sporting passion when he was 9, on a visit to an ice rink with his grandfather.

"He was watching the skaters one day at Ice World in Aberdeen," said his mother, Jo Ann Yost of Glen Arm. "He loved the speed and team aspect of ice hockey and the fact that everyone had a part to play. And he enjoyed the fun of hockey and was committed to learning the game."

First to coach Andy at the ice rink was Mike Shramek, now head coach of the varsity ice hockey team at Calvert Hall. A hockey team manager recalled that Andy once said that Mr. Shramek "was tough, but he taught me the basics."

About a year after he first took to the ice, Andy was found to have leukemia in October 2002.

"When he was first diagnosed, it was just unbelievable. It was unbelievable that this was happening to our son. Our entire family was just devastated," said his father, Lamont E. Yost of Middle River. "However, he was a very courageous and strong young man when it came to fighting this. And he did want to fight it."

His mother said: "He was just magnificent. He was 10 when he was diagnosed and became interested in his treatment. He dug into it and worked with the doctors and nurses at Duke, which is a wonderful organization. Andy was very accepting of all the procedures and never complained."

After leaving Duke after the first bone marrow transplant in 2003, Andy seemed cured, until he suffered a relapse in January, his mother said.

What kept Andy going through his three-year struggle was the bond he had forged with the coaches and players of Baltimore Youth Hockey, with whom he hoped to eventually play.

"They kept a place for him on the Stars Bantam Gold team, and it helped keep his spirits up. It helped him think that his illness wasn't a dead end," his mother said.

Jim Zinkhan, coach of the Stars Bantam Gold, said: "I met him three years ago, and we adopted him as a player. When we won a tournament in York, Pa., last year, the kids wanted to know if we could give Andy the trophy, and we did."

"There's a strong bond between kids who play hockey. They tend to stick together, and they took to the idea of adding Andy to our team. He was a neat kid, and everyone who knew him loved him. He had a heart of gold," he said.

The trophy meant so much to Andy that he took it to Duke to show his doctors.

In December 2003, Andy wanted to attend a BYH game in Bowie, and his doctors reluctantly agreed to let him go into the cold rink.

"This was his first trip outside in nearly six months. Sporting a fancy hospital mask to protect him from infection, Andy was presented with a Stars game jersey with his name on the back by coach Bill Zinkhan. He showed me a big smile under the hospital mask," said Ed Kouneski, manager of the Stars Bantam Gold.

At the Stars' last practice at the end of the 2003-2004 season, Andy, after a year away from the ice, skated with the team.

"I thought he'd only skate for maybe 30 minutes, and he wound up skating for an hour and a half. Clearly, he wanted to come back and play," Mr. Kouneski said.

"At the end of the practice, Andy scored on a one-on-one break while players hollered, `Andy, Andy,' and David Fleishman flattened the goalie, leaving an open net. The whole team cheered, piled on and threw sticks and gloves as if it were a championship win," he said.

Mr. Kouneski, in an e-mail to BYH coaches and players after Andy's death, wrote: "At the age of 12, Andy became an inspiration to me and to our team.

"He told me that everyday he wakes he has a decision to make: He can decide to let bad things ruin his day - the hair loss, feeling ill, can't play hockey, can't be with friends, can't be home, feeling sad - or he can decide to make this one of his best days and play his `best game.' He said only he can decide not to let the bad things ruin this day. `Mr. Ed, I decide to enjoy this day,' he'd say."

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