Progress is seeing Derek Wendelken toss the football around with the ballboys during Friday night's 19th annual Battle Against Cystic Fibrosis Football Classic at Don Drumm Stadium in Marietta.
Nine years ago at the age of 4, Wendelken was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. Last summer his health took a turn for the worse and he spent 69 days in Columbus at Nationwide Children's Hospital trying to recover from four infections in his lungs.
"He was real sick," said his father, Scott Wendelken. "Derek thought he was going to die."
Fortunately for Derek, modern science has a way of finding cures. In February, Derek started a new drug called Kalydeco. Otherwise known as the cure pill.
Since his release from the hospital, Derek has gained 30 pounds and is nearly 50 percent cured from the disease. He has a long-term goal of becoming the first cystic fibrosis patient to play in the BACF Football Classic when he becomes a senior in high school.
For the time being, he is enjoying being a kid again and looking to enjoy the summer before his eighth grade year at Warren Elementary.
"Derek now feels there is hope," his father continued.
There is plenty of support behind Derek and others stricken with CF. In addition to Friday night's football game, funds are raised locally at functions like the BACF Basketball Classic played every April and the basket bingo events.
"We're making a difference, especially here in the Mid-Ohio Valley," BACF Football Classic game director Danny Tennant said. "The money we make goes to the corporate offices in Kentucky, and what they are doing there is helping everybody around the country."
The Warren High School football team also had Derek's back. While in the hospital, Derek received a visit from Warriors head coach Andy Schob and his players.
As a way of saying thank you, Derek's father spoke to the Ohio squad coached by Schob before the start of Friday night's game.
"The hospital visit meant a lot to Derek and his parents," Schob said after Ohio shut out its West Virginia counterparts for a 48-0 victory. "He is recovering and getting better, and I'm happy for that."
Every dollar counts. Wyatt Smith can vouch for that. Smith is another one of the 30,000 children affected by CF in the United States.
Smith is now 16 years old and preparing to enter his junior year at Parkersburg South. Friday night, he proudly wore his West Virginia jersey given to him several years ago bearing the No. 4 in respect to his favorite quarterback of all-time - Brett Favre.
At one time in Smith's life, his mother (Carolyn) thought he wasn't going to make it through after her son contracted the flu and lost a considerable amount of weight. Smith pulled through and after missing a few BACF football games, he returned for Friday night's showcase.
"This past year has been the best in my entire life as far as my health," Smith said. "I'm just blessed to have a great family and great friends."
Contact Kerry Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org