A Friendship Born Through the Hard Times

May 26, 2016 | Durham YMCA

Sometimes in the worst of times, it’s hard to see the good that can come out of tragedy. This was certainly true for two families at the Durham YMCA who’s shared challenges brought them closer together and forged bonds that will last the rest of their lives.

A RARE DIAGNOSIS

Zach Fisher is the Member Engagement Director at the Lakewood YMCA in Durham. Along with their daughter Maia, Zach and Julia had a son, Luka. In 2014, Luka was diagnosed with a rare immune disease.  For their family this meant long periods of time spent at the hospital. Luka would undergo multiple procedures, including a bone marrow transplant, as part of the efforts to improve his health.

 The Outleys with Connor at Duke Hospital, supporting #LukaTheLion and the Fishers at UNC Children's Hospital, both post bone marrow transplant for a rare primary immunodeficiency disease

The Outleys with Connor at Duke Hospital, supporting #LukaTheLion and the Fishers at UNC Children's Hospital, both post bone marrow transplant for a rare primary immunodeficiency disease

DISCOVERING COMMONALITY

Unbeknownst to Zach and Julia, hundreds of miles away, Daniel & Megan Outley were beginning a similar journey with their son. Conner was diagnosed with a primary immunodeficiency disease and came to Duke Hospital for treatment during the same time that Luka was in treatment at UNC Hospitals. The Outleys would spend several weeks over the next few months in Durham as Connor underwent two different bone marrow transplants.

During this time, Daniel, a firefighter in Florida, sought out a place to exercise and help manage the stress related to his son’s treatment. His search brought him to the Lakewood YMCA, and a chat with one of the staff members about his situation led to a connection with Zach.

Over the next several weeks, Zach and Daniel grew closer, talking about shared experiences their families were going through, leaning on each other and supporting one another through the boys’ treatment.

They would often spend time before or after Daniel worked out, sitting at the YMCA and sharing information about their sons’ conditions, and leaning on each other. On late nights spent at the hospitals, they’d text each other for support. The Y became a support system for Daniel and Megan too, with staff reaching out simply to spend time with them when they came by.

“During the tough times, I found that my connection with Daniel, and being able to talk with someone who could understand what we were going through was a gift,” said Fisher. “I cherish the talks we had.”

SHARED HEARTBREAK

Both Luka and Connor ultimately lost their battles with their diseases, passing away on the same day - December 1. And despite the sadness surrounding both of their families, the connection the Fishers and Outleys share continues to grow. Zach and Julia had the opportunity to travel to Florida and stayed with them, which provided valuable opportunity to begin the grieving process.

 The Outleys and Fishers at Connor's Celebration of Life, after dancing in the rain to fireworks -- "To Infinity and Beyond!"

The Outleys and Fishers at Connor's Celebration of Life, after dancing in the rain to fireworks -- "To Infinity and Beyond!"

“Being there gave us the ability to begin to recalibrate to what our lives would be like going forward. It was so important for us,” Said Zach.

A STRONG CONNECTION

Zach and Daniel still stay in touch, texting and chatting a couple of times a week – checking in on each other during hard times, continuing a friendship born of tragedy and nurtured in the YMCA.

To learn more about the Fishers and about primary immunodeficiency disease, visit the Luka the Lion Foundation website

For the whole story: click here