Dominic Rooney

Dominic Rooney

Calgary AB

From his parents - Sean and Trish Rooney

Dominic Rooney (October 12, 2012 - September 3, 2015)

Dominic is our miracle.

After five years of trying to have a child, we had just about given up. The word adoption had no sooner entered our vocabulary than Trish got pregnant. We were ecstatic.

He was born in October 2012, and it was apparent early on we had lucked out. He slept through the night, didn't have any health problems and seemed to always be smiling. We took him on vacation to meet friends and family in 2013 - it was the Dominic World Tour! Then we got him registered for a day home as Trish got set to re-enter the workforce.

Then he got sick. He didn't sleep well anymore. Suddenly there were little red dots on his head. Within days we were sent 300 kilometres from our home in Medicine Hat to Calgary and the Alberta Children's Hospital, where Dominic was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia.

We didn't know much about leukemia at first, but we learned quickly. He started chemotherapy right away, then we found out the subtype of his AML was extremely rare and aggressive. Even though the chemotherapy put the cancer into remission, the decision was made to give him a bone marrow transplant.

In the meantime his attitude was inspiring. Barely a year old, Dominic adapted to hospital life like a champion. He’d play with the nurses, giggle and wander the hallways in a rolling walker. His room routinely turned into a dance party. When the hospital did its radiothon in 2014 he was the poster child.

The bone marrow transplant was initially a success, but not without problems. He wound up in intensive care twice, once because of a virus and again from a reaction to a drug he was given to combat a different illness. Surviving that, we thought, must surely mean he'd be in the clear.

He wasn't. The cancer came back in August 2014. Doctors came up with a new plan. We were told this is our last chance. Somehow, he achieved remission a second time. But it didn’t last long.

On Christmas eve, 2014, Dominic was labelled as terminal. We took him home for his last Christmas, and his favourite present was the one with just layers of wrapping paper. He didn’t care that there was no present inside. Then it was off to Vancouver for a mini wish trip, swimming in the hotel pool, going to a hockey game: all the things you tend to avoid when you’re a cancer patient with little to no immune system.

Yet by March 2015 he was not only still alive but the cancer was less. Doctors started using the word miracle to describe it. But it wasn’t the sort of miracle that endures.

That summer was incredible. We transitioned to palliative care, he developed his now-signature thumbs up since he was non-verbal, and we gave him every experience we could. Road trips, gymnastics lessons, a photo shoot with a fire truck for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s annual calendar. He made everyone around him smile.

The cancer started sneaking back in. Thanks to the efforts of many, he was offered a wish trip to Florida. We stayed at Give Kids the World, a resort built specifically for wish kids. And for two hours, we went together to Disneyworld.

The next morning, he crashed. He died Sept. 3, 2015. We like to think he brought us to the happiest place in the world to say goodbye.

And that would be the end of his story but for the community that surrounds us.

We started raising money in his name as soon as he was diagnosed. Friends told us about a gaming fundraiser where you play for 24 hours straight and collect donations, so we did that. Other friends joined a cycling fundraiser where they climbed mountains. There were silent auctions, and shorn heads in solidarity, and so much more.

And there was Light the Night, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s main event where we met so many other families like ours, survivors, and people working to get rid of these awful diseases. Team #Dominicstrong started with a couple of the staff from the cancer ward, and soon grew to include family, friends, and anyone else who wanted to share thumbs up and blown kisses for a good cause.

We’re proud that Dominic is this year’s Remembered Hero, not for what we’ve lost, but for the knowledge that he lives on in those he inspires.