Last year, doctors gave Abby Furco 48 hours to live. The 10-year-old’s rare form of leukemia had returned, and multiple hospitals exhausted all of their treatment options. Patty and Joe Furco began planning their daughter’s funeral, writing a eulogy and picking out service music. Then a miracle happened: their daughter woke up.
Abby first received her diagnosis in 2011 at 4-years-old, when doctors gave her a 20% chance of survival. “We were devastated,” her mom told People. “We were basically told that she was was going to die.”
The Virginia Beach, Virginia, family spent the next few years in and out of hospitals. Abby’s rare type of cancer — Philadelphia Chromosome positive acute lymphoblastic leukemia — doesn’t respond to typical chemotherapy, so the family traveled to Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago for a special trial.
In 2013, Abby finished her treatment and finally enjoyed life as a regular second grader. “Looking back on it, it was just magical,” Patty told WTKR. Abby returned to school, played soccer and joined the Girl Scouts. But 11 months later, her cancer returned.
This time the Furcos moved to Chicago, where Abby could receive another bone marrow transplant. Her second procedure, however, didn’t end as well. Doctors diagnosed Abby with Graft-versus-host disease, meaning the donated marrow was attacking her body.
Both of Abby’s kidneys failed, and she was on dialysis 24 hours a day. “Doctors told us it was time to let her go,” Patty told People. “We began preparing our other daughters for her death.”
The Furcos returned to Virginia in June 2016 for a final night with family and friends, accepting further treatment would only cause more pain and suffering. Except the following morning, Abby woke up. Her health actually started to improve over the next few weeks, beating all odds.
“The doctors have no idea what happened,” Patty told the Virginian-Pilot. “One of them told me that in over 25 years he’d never seen anything like it.”
That summer, she attended Camp Fantastic, a program for cancer patients and survivors. In the fall, Abby took up schoolwork again, catching up with her fifth grade peers.
“Medically speaking, Abby should not be with us anymore,” Joe told WTKR. “Abby thumbed her nose at the medical profession in this respect and said, ‘Thank you for your opinion, I’ll see you guys in a couple of months, or a couple of years,’ and has been continuing on.”
These days, Abby now raises awareness and funding for childhood cancer research as an ambassador for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation. While she regularly receives IV steroids, Abby still attends school for several hours a day and dreams of becoming a chef with her own restaurant.
“Her zest for life is just amazing,” Patty told People. “We watched her die and come back to life.”