HINESBURG, Vt. — The chemotherapy had ravaged Storm Rushford’s immune system to the point that he didn’t have the white blood cells needed to show symptoms of pneumonia. When his cell count rebounded, he’d had it for a week.
The fever that sent him to the hospital spiked to 105 degrees. Each of his lungs had partially collapsed, which meant any attempt to sit up endangered his breathing. He spent nearly half of that three-week stay at the University of Vermont Medical Center in the intensive care unit, getting fed oxygen through a mask.
The 16-year-old from Williston had battled acute lymphoblastic leukemia for seven months. He weathered one side effect after another — nausea, wild fluctuations in weight, anaphylactic shock, partial paralysis. This was different.
“I was pretty close to going on that one,” he said, quietly.
“It’s like a building fell on him. He was pulverized,” said his dad, Matt Rushford. “He lost all of his muscle tone. He couldn’t sit up, couldn’t stand up, couldn’t walk.”
And yet, nine weeks later, here was the 6-foot-2 sophomore Champlain Valley right-hander popping the catcher’s mitt with the ceremonial first pitch before his team’s annual Strike Out Cancer Game on Thursday against rival Essex.
Golden sunshine and blue skies over the exploding, mid-May greenery. Baseball in the air. A good day if there ever was one.
“Just seeing him in a uniform, on the mound, participating is hard to describe,” Matt Rushford said Thursday, a few feet from where his wife Julieta was cutting a celebratory cake for the CVU and Essex players. “It’s all gravy because we’ve been working really hard to keep him alive these last 10 months and he’s been really close to not making it several times.”
This is Storm Rushford’s story, a reminder that not all victories take place on the field.