A year after being given a prognosis of 12 months or less to live, a Pickerington boy battling an incurable brain tumor was named honorary police chief for a day in his home town.
Roughly one year ago, Ashley and Dean Bandavanis were at their wits end after their 6-year-old son Dean's medical treatments -- which included radiation and steroids -- had not been effective..
The family made a decision to take Dean, known by friends and family as "Deany," to Mexico to undergo experimental treatments for diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, often referred to as DIPG. The treatments led to a reduction in the swelling of his face and body and an overall improvement in his quality of life.
March 4, the Bandavanis family returned to Pickerington following Deany's 10th treatment in Mexico to celebrate his seventh birthday with friends and classmates from Sycamore Elementary.
The following day, Deany was sworn in as honorary chief of the Pickerington Police Department, and his 8-year-old brother, Keller, was made an honorary police commander for the day.
"He's very, very, very close to having no evidence of the disease," Ashley Bandavanis said. "It never goes away, but he's basically in remission.
"The U.S. (medical community) gave him a death sentence," she said.
"Now, his quality of life is amazing and he does everything a normal kid would do, including go to school full time."
That's all the Bandavanis family could ask when it faced few options last spring.
Now, with the help of donations to offset expenses not covered by insurance, they continue to take Deany to Mexico every month for treatments.
"As long as we can afford to keep him in treatment and as long as we can stay one step ahead, he can live a pretty good life," Bandavanis said.
A day after his birthday celebration, Deany got to ride throughout the city in a police cruiser, and get up-close looks at a Columbus Division of Police helicopter and a Fairfield County Sheriff's Office armored SWAT vehicle.
"It was pretty good," Deany said of the honorary appointment to chief. "I liked the dog and the helicopter."
Deany said he was excited to get to be part of a law enforcement agency because police "are nice people."
Pickerington police Sgt. Chad Wallace said the department knew the family's story and was more than happy to provide the opportunity.
"He's a real big fan of the police," Wallace said. "This is something people thought would be a good experience for him. It's just nice to be able to help someone out that's in his condition."
the family is grateful for community support.
With medical and travel expenses at roughly $20,000 a month, the family was able to offset about $75,000 of the $250,000 in costs it incurred.
This year, the community has pitched in another $12,000, which has helped, Bandavanis said. The family already has spent upwards of $65,000 this year. Those who want to learn more or to contribute to offsetting the medical expenses can do so through a Deany Strong Facebook page.
"It's still equally daunting," Bandavanis said. "We're kind of in unchartered waters.
"But we're hopeful now. Last year, we had no hope.
"The smile (the community) has given him is our biggest 'thank you,' " she said. "Trying to save his life is something I'll never be able to repay."