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Adyn Strong: Brewery comes to aid of resilient child
August 12, 2020

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If you were to describe 8-year-old Adyn Pickett with one word, it would be resilient.

Adyn began his fourth round of treatment for leukemia this week at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg. His family, who call Cape Coral home, recently found out that Adyn's cancer had returned for a third time. He was originally diagnosed when he was 4.

Fort Myers Brewing Co., which is familiar with Adyn's fight, launched a LEGO-themed-labeled craft beer this week called "Adyn Strong" - an appropriate title for the German Pilsner that sold out in mere hours after debuting at their Gateway taproom Tuesday. The brewing company is now taking pre-orders for the next batch that will be available in the coming weeks.

"It's amazing to feel the love of the community," said Adyn's father, James Pickett. "We can honestly never repay the love and gratitude we've been shown, and we will forever continue to try and support organizations or foundations or other families that we know that are going through this."

The Picketts were introduced to Fort Myers Brewing Co. owners Rob and Jen Whyte through a mutual friend who was also a parent to a child with cancer. (Her name is Addy and she is now in remission). One year ago this week, Fort Myers Brewing Co. hosted a fundraiser for Adyn that raised $15,500 for the family. Now, they've stepped up again to help the Picketts.

"Throughout the last year we've gotten to know the Pickett family, and we saw Adyn's highest highs and now this newest battle he has to go through," Jen Whyte said. "No family should be in this position. Because of COVID and not being able to host an event, we put our heads together and came up with this 6-pack idea."

Fort Myers Brewing sold more than 200 6-packs on Tuesday at $12 each, with $10 of each sale going to the family.

"No child should have cancer, and no family should be worried about medical bills when their child is fighting for their life," Whyte said. "The Pickett family had already been through so many highs and lows, and we ask the community to join us in helping ease the burden."

The Picketts first feared something wasn't quite right with their son a week before Christmas in 2016, having just returned from a trip to Disney.

Adyn's mother Erica noticed some unusual bruising on her son that continued to worsen after an initial doctor's appointment found nothing out of the ordinary about them.

Shortly thereafter, James said Adyn slightly bumped his head, as many young children accidentally do. That caused an oversized hematoma. If that didn't worry them enough, that evening while brushing his teeth, his gums began to bleed and the Picketts knew something was wrong.

The next morning they brought him to the doctor who rushed lab work for the then 4-year-old kindergartener.

"It was actually at his Christmas pageant for school when we got the call that we needed to rush him to Golisano Children's Hospital because he had cancer," James said.

Adyn was initially diagnosed as "high risk" and had 850 million cancer cells in his body. He underwent a 30-day regiment of high-dose chemotherapy and at the end of that period did not quite qualify for remission. That bumped Adyn from "high risk" to "very high risk." He then repeated another 30-day round of chemo and qualified for remission status.

Adyn missed first grade and throughout that year was in and out of the hospital quite a bit. A year and a half into his remission he relapsed the first time.

"The amazing thing about him is we've never once been able to tell that he's been sick when it has returned," James said. "Even to this day. If you look at him now, he looks extremely healthy. And finally, he's getting his appetite back."

After Adyn's first relapse, his then 6-year-old sister Abby helped her brother in the most unselfish and brave way she could -- she became a bone marrow donor.

Abby went through two months of assessments and prep and the day of the transplant, underwent a three-hour surgery where doctors poked her around 350 times in her hip and pelvic bones to extract marrow. Strength must run in the Pickett family, as Abby was still able to take part in her school play the very next day because she was so adamant about being there.

"Children should grow up and look to their parents as their heroes, but me and my wife look at Adyn and Abby as our heroes," James said. "Just everything that they've been through together and also everything they've been through individually, from diagnosis to now, has just been incredible, and they both do it with a smile on their face and joy in their heart. "

Adyn was in remission after the bone marrow transplant for six to seven months before his cancer returned a second time. He then took part in a relatively new immunotherapy trial where they take T cells out of the body, modify them to attack the proteins of the cancer, and then return them.

Adyn was in remission for around seven months after the trial before the disheartening news in June. That bad news also resulted in another obstacle for Adyn to overcome.

"Most recently, we have also found out that his cancer has mutated," James said. "It's still the same cancer, but in order to try and preserve itself, it will take different shapes, and that's what's happening now."

The long-time Cape Coral residents were planning on going to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia for another treatment trial, but once they discovered the cancer had mutated, their only option was a bone marrow transplant. The Picketts are only 50 percent matches themselves, so Adyn will receive marrow from an anonymous donor. Adyn and his mother will spend up to three and a half months between the hospital and staying local in the area while James and Abby stay in Cape Coral.

James said LEGOs became a huge part of Adyn's life after his first recurrence, as he spent his time constructing while recovering. That love was incorporated in the Adyn Strong logo design.

"That was like his therapy while he was in the hospital, building LEGOs," James said.

His family said they consider him as sort of an old soul, meaning he loves "the classics" such as the original Tom & Jerry cartoon, as well as retro Mario.

Adyn is also an extremely caring individual.

One example was when a Spiderman desk was gifted to Adyn from a family who lost their son to cancer.

When the father brought his late son's old desk over to the Picketts home, the first thing Adyn said to him was, "I'm sorry you lost your son."

"Neither one of us told him to say that, that's just him," James said. "He understands and gets life a little bit more than we hoped that he would at the age of 8. He's such a kind, caring person and it radiates off of him."

James thankfully has insurance from his job in commercial pest control, but the family pays a high deductible each year. Erica is a retired Cape Coral Police Department officer in the Department of Children and Families. She now takes care of her son full time.

"We play the insurance game for the most part," James said. "Medical bills are something we'll live with for eternity. But we send it to collections and make payments towards it like we have and that's our only option."

He believes his family is in the ballpark of $5- to $6 million in treatments.

James, a regular at Fort Myers Brewing Co. and a craft beer lover in his own right, said he would often go to the brewery where Adyn would be enthralled with all of the dogs people would bring in. He expressed that some close friends and even family members have grown distant from the Picketts since Adyn's diagnosis, and his family is extremely thankful for all of the support from the Southwest Florida community who have filled that void for him, his wife and children.

"We were warned from the very beginning that your friends and family will divert you, and we didn't believe it at first," James said. "When it started to happen we were a little bit taken aback by people we called literal family and friends that just disappeared.

"But then also what started happening is that people within the community that understood us and were either in similar situations or were very close to it, they actually ran towards us. All of these complete strangers in most cases and people that we've now learned to know and talk to, have replaced our former friends and family. And it's been very refreshing to us, because on our worst days when we just want to talk to somebody and get it all out, we have people who understand exactly what we're going through at that time."

The limited-edition label for the Adyn Strong brew, inspired by Adyn's love for LEGOs, was created by Jeromy Boutwell of Boutwell Designs with printing services donated by Blue Label Packaging Company.

Fort Myers Brewing Co. is at 12811 Commerce Lakes Drive, Suite 28, in Fort Myers. For more information, visit FMbrew.com or call 239-313-6576 to pre-order your Adyn Strong 6-pack.

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj

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