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Tyler Andrews

Tyler Andrews has been passionate about running for most of his life. The 26-year-old turned it into his profession and has competed all over the world.

But the biggest competition he ever faced was at the tender age of six, when he was confronted with aplastic anemia. He was in first grade when he was horsing around one day with his older brother and fell down a flight of stairs. It was the luckiest tumble he ever took, leading to the enduring family joke that his brother saved his life by pushing him down the stairs.

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Disease

Prior to his diagnosis in January 1997, Tyler was a healthy and active little boy. He says he doesn’t recall ever feeling sick, or even particularly tired.

But shortly after that fateful fall, his mother was quick to notice that something looked wrong. Tyler  had developed a strange rash, instead of the bruising his mother had expected to see. She intuitively understood that this wasn’t normal and took her son to the family pediatrician, who recognized that what she had described as a rash was the tell-tale appearance of petechaie. He sent Tyler to the local hospital for testing, and it soon became clear that he was suffering from a bone marrow failure disease.

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Treatment

Mass General Hospital was Tyler’s next destination and where his aplastic anemia was treated. He was given the standard combination of ATG and cyclosporine, but he remembers more about his feelings than his treatment.

“I remember being really angry about having to spend the night in the hospital the first night I was diagnosed. I didn’t want to sleep outside of my own home.”

He says that his most distinct memories of that time are about things that now seem quite trivial. “I didn’t like getting my blood drawn because I was six, right?” Treatment kept Tyler in the hospital for weeks. He then had a lot of at-home care because his system was so immunosuppressed. “I may have been out of the hospital, but I wasn’t really allowed to be out in the world.”

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Education

Whe Tyler went back to school, he brought with him a profound understanding of what it meant to be scared and hospitalized over the holidays. He had beaten aplastic anemia, and survivorship in his eyes had a very specific meaning.

What comforted Tyler most during treatment was his favorite beanie baby. Now he wanted to provide the same comfort to other sick children in the ward where he was treated. While he couldn’t have known the meaning of community service at that time, he was doing it in a big way. Tyler created annual beanie baby toy drives. It began in his own third-grade class, which taught his whole elementary school a lesson. Soon every grade was involved. The stuffed animal drives continued throughout his middle school and high school years, and he says his family still keeps this tradition going.

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Support

Tyler has never lost sight of the fact that he was one of the lucky ones, living in Concord, Massachusetts, near top hospitals and renowned specialists. His experience with aplastic anemia gave rise to his passion for community service. Now supporting others is his life’s work.

When he was still in college, Tyler joined an international community service program for athletes, Strive Trips, and he’s been with the organization ever since. “I knew a lot about running, a lot about traveling, a lot about service, a lot about Latin America and I speak Spanish. All of my skills that I once thought of as random were merged into this one program, and so it really felt like I was called to do this.”

Whether it was sick children or impoverished communities, Tyler has been making a difference in people’s lives for almost all of his. And he’s never stopped running competitively on the global circuit. He's been ranked in the top 20 in the U.S. marathon, qualified for the Olympic Trials and represented the U.S. National Team twice.