HUDSONVILLE, Mich. – At first glance, Tommy Ruddy seems like your typical 5-year-old boy. He loves football – he’s a self-proclaimed Philadelphia Eagles fan – and, like all of us, loves pizza.
But over the course of the past month, life for Tommy and his family has been anything but typical.
On Aug. 12, during an annual visit to his grandparents’ home in central Pennsylvania, Tommy’s mom Amanda made a devastating discovery.
For a while, she had been noticing changes in her son’s behavior – changes in speech, he was napping constantly, and his reading comprehension had slowed. But for each sign, there was a logical explanation, Amanda told herself. Then, from his grandparents' house, Tommy hopped on a Face Time call with Amanda.
“I looked and his face was drooping,” said Amanda, “and that’s when I knew that something was wrong.”
A CAT scan from a Pennsylvania emergency room showed a mass in Tommy’s brain – a tumor.
Tommy was diagnosed with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma, or DIPG. It’s an incurable and aggressive type of tumor brought to the limelight when Chad Carr, grandson of former University of Michigan football coach Lloyd Carr, was diagnosed several years back.
“There’s no words to put in place how you feel at that moment,” said Amanda. “It’s hard not to jump immediately to the future.”
Tommy was flown back to Grand Rapids and is currently undergoing treatment at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.
He’s one of just 300 cases diagnosed each year worldwide. His best bet is a spot in a clinical trial, but right now Amanda says there are only about 15 ongoing in the U.S. and because of its rarity, DIPG clinical trials are hardly ever funded privately.
Life moves one day at a time for the Ruddys, but support is plentiful. Since Tommy’s diagnosis, many high profile members of the music, sports and entertainment world have showed their support in one fashion or another.
While in the hospital, Tommy was visited by local members of the military, the GVSU and Hope College football team and even Jordan Matthews of the Philadelphia Eagles stopped by to say hello. He dedicated his game Sunday to Tommy.
Even U of M head football coach Jim Harbaugh penned Tommy a letter, and is helping in other ways too. Thursday from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Fair Haven Church in Hudsonville, Team Tommy Army Strong, an organization created by friends in support of the 5-year-old, is hosting a benefit dinner and silent auction.
The items range from signed University of Michigan and Michigan State memorabilia, sporting event and concert tickets, vacation stays and various other prize packages, all donated with Tommy specifically in mind.
“I don’t know the reason,” said Amanda, “but I do know that he’s changing lives every day and we hope that he changes the diagnosis of this disease, the future of this disease and finding a cure. Because he is special and amazing and if anyone can do it it’s him.”
Fair Haven Church is located at 2900 Baldwin Street in Hudsonville. To make an online donation, visit Tommy’s GoFundMe Page and for more information on Team Tommy Army Strong, check out their Facebook page.