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Vogel family named Eagles’ “Pot of Gold” recipients

by Scott MacDonald | AHL On The Beat

“Luck” is a word that is often closely associated to chance, good fortune and something completely out of one’s control — for better or for worse. And in life, it can often feel like one is either born with it or they’re not.

Since the 2011-12 season, the Colorado Eagles have done their best to try and change the luck of families in need around Northern Colorado. Each year since then, the team has hosted a “Pot of Gold Night” – a community fundraising program put together by the Eagles organization in which a local family in need and facing financial hardship is chosen to be the recipient of the fundraising efforts.

This year’s recipients are 3-year-old Jayce Vogel and his family, whose incredible story — and their hearts of gold — are more than deserving to be shared with the world.

Colorado natives Bryan and Kristi Vogel have a larger family. The two high-school sweethearts married shortly after they graduated from the University of Northern Colorado. After their graduation, Bryan began his career as a police officer while Kristi began hers as a grade-school teacher. They had two biological children early on in their marriage but later felt that adoption would be an incredible way to expand their family.

Bryan and Kristi went on to adopt four children, each with varying mental and physical needs. And in December of 2016, the two got a call from the state asking if they would be interested in fostering the biological brother of one one of their already-adopted children. Without question, the two quickly jumped at the chance to have Jayce in their home, adding a fifth adopted child while increasing the family’s size to eight members.

“There was no thought process,” Kristi said of their selfless choice to adopt children. “We had our two biological kids and we thought we were done. And then we realized, you know what, we’re not done.

“We were done at five (total children) and then God had different plans for us. The state called us and asked if we’d be willing to take another baby, and that’s how Jayce landed in our lap.”

Jayce’s fortune, however, changed just a few months before the adoption was finalized. Kristi began noticing some bruising under Jayce’s eyes, and her motherly instincts prompted a trip to the doctor. The news the family would receive just minutes into the doctor visit was earth-shattering.

“He just had a bruise under his eye and I didn’t feel good about it,” Kristi recalled. “So we took him to see our pediatrician, but he was out of the office, so we saw his interim pediatrician and she looked at him right away and asked, ‘Are his pupils always two different sizes?’

“And we said no, we’ve never noticed. And then she says, ‘I think he has neuroblastoma.’ And we said, ‘How on earth can you diagnose that just from looking at him?’ But she used to be a PICU (pediatric intensive care unit) doctor. Then she sent us to Children’s (Children’s Hospital Colorado) to run scans and all of the stuff that we needed.”

“For her to pick him up and seriously within like four seconds she says, ‘Guys, I think your son has cancer,’ and just that immediate shock and you’re like ‘What did you just say?’” added Bryan.

Kristi and Bryan were then referred to Children’s Hospital for further testing, but what happened there was yet another unfortunate twist in their story. Given Jayce’s bruised eyes, doctors at the hospital assumed and accused Bryan and Kristi of child abuse.

“They wouldn’t run the test that our pediatrician needed,” Kristi said. “So our social worker had to come, Jayce’s GAL (guardian ad litem) was there telling them that we want these people to raise our kids, you have this so wrong, this is a mistake.

“Probably out of all it, that was the hardest part because we were still trying to process everything, and one doctor is saying your kid has cancer and the other is saying you’re beating this baby.”

When the hospital finally ran the necessary tests, the worst was indeed confirmed. Doctors found a mass on Jayce’s left adrenal gland.

On June 2, 2017, at just 6 months old, Jayce was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic neuroblastoma, a cancerous tumor that begins in nerve tissue of infants and very young children.

“We met with the oncologist the following week and that’s when it all kind of started to kick in,” said Bryan. “It takes a while to process it. There’s that immediate devastation and then I remember the drive down to Children’s just thinking ‘Wow, what is this going to look like?’ and then they say they’ll give you a call in a couple days. That couple days of not knowing anything is crazy. Then once it gets going, it’s fast. We started treatment that week.

“It’s like, here’s your ticket to the roller coaster — jump on now.”

After receiving the news, the state gave Kristi and Bryan the option to not move further with the adoption. But for the two loving parents, that was absolutely never an option.

“The state told us you don’t have to adopt him, you don’t have to do this,” Kristi recalled. “And we said, ‘Are you kidding me, this is our son. We can’t just give him back.’”

For a year, Jayce was being cared for and treated at Children’s Hospital Colorado before the news turned tragically worse. Bryan and Kristi were informed that Jayce’s cancer was growing and not responding to the 12 rounds of chemotherapy he was receiving. They were referred to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York for treatment, which would require monthly trips — sometimes in excess of 18 days — from their family’s home in Timnath, Colo., to New York City, where Jayce would undergo painful treatments of immunotherapy.

“He spent more time in New York last year than he did at home,” Kristi said.

Since the family is now in New York so often, Bryan and Kristi have been renting a 300-square-foot apartment there for when they’re in New York, which the two say has by far been the biggest financial hurdle.

“That, along with the plane fare and groceries, it more than doubled our monthly expenses,” added Bryan.

As one might imagine, the financial implications of monthly travel across the country — and all that comes with that — has been excessive.

“Well, you can do the math. We have a family of eight on a police officer’s income. We take on debt, but you do it willingly because we do everything to save his life,” said Kristi.

It has been over a year and a half of tough travel back and forth for Jayce and his family, and he’s since finished five more rounds of chemotherapy and 12 rounds of immunotherapy. He and his family are currently waiting to be cleared to begin the neuroblastoma vaccine that is offered in New York. Upon approval, it will require another year of arduous, pain-staking travel to and from the state.

But the Vogel family’s luck has recently taken a turn for the best. Just days ago, Jayce’s doctor in New York called with some incredible news.

“We found out on Friday (Feb. 28) from the doctor in New York that he does not have any evidence of active disease right now,” Kristi revealed. “It’s amazing after three years of struggling.

“He’s not a candidate for anymore treatments. We were hoping we could go back to New York for the vaccine but since he still has live cancer in there and it’s just becoming benign, we kind of got kicked out of that.”

Jayce has been dealt an unlucky hand to start his young life. In addition to his neuroblastoma, he is the only child in the world known to have a condition called VIP (vasoactive intestinal peptide), which has not responded to traditional treatment options. Most children that have VIP are cured upon tumor removal, and the few that have needed more have either responded to a specific medicine, or unfortunately passed away. For Jayce, there is no known cure, but rather only maintenance while Jayce’s cancer matures.

“Most kids, it goes away when they remove their tumor, but his doesn’t,” said Kristi. “So the doctors told us in the beginning that they thought if the cancer didn’t kill him, the VIP will.

“And Jayce is rubbing that in their face,” Kristi added cheerfully.

The Colorado Eagles’ Pot of Gold Night on March 21 will benefit Jayce’s journey and his family’s tireless efforts through this whole process. Fans in attendance will have the opportunity to get engaged in a silent auction for the jerseys worn by the Eagles players during the game. The silent auction will be held via Handbid, a mobile bidding app, from March 17-21. Proceeds from the auction will go to the Vogel family.

Subaru of Loveland is also donating a portion of all new Subaru vehicles sold between now and March 21. In addition to that, the Loveland Subaru dealership is making an additional donation during the game on the 21st for all Chuck-A-Pucks that land in the sunroof of the Subaru on the ice during the intermission Chuck-A-Puck promotion.

In addition to the silent auction of the themed Eagles jerseys that have been sponsored by Lucky Joe’s in Old Town Ft. Collins, with the help of the Larimer and Weld County Sheriff’s departments, donations will be collected during the game for anyone who would like to help Jayce and his family’s cause.

“We have no idea how far-reaching our story is,” said Bryan. “And then when the Eagles came to us, there’s just no words. You say ‘thank you’ for like a Christmas present, right? This just isn’t even in the same universe. It’s absolutely humbling.”

Since the inception of the Eagles’ Pot of Gold Night, the organization and all those that have made contributions to the event have raised nearly $400,000 for local families in need.

With the event centered around St. Patrick’s Day every year, fans in attendance can also expect some festive themes such as green Budweiser drafts, live bagpipe performances and Irish step dancing, in addition to the specially designed Irish-themed jerseys, complete with a unique celtic logo and the initials of the previous recipients of the “Pot of Gold,” that will be auctioned off with all proceeds going to the Vogel family.

“It will change the trajectory of our finances because we can pay back what we thought we’d just have to deal with until retirement or until Jayce — we hope — gets to go to college and we’ll be able to take care of that,” added Kristi. “We’re honored, humbled and just amazed… there’s just no words that come. It’s incredible.”

“There’s been a lot of stuff through this journey and it’s so hard to capture it,” added Bryan. “We’ve all somehow had a super positive attitude throughout. Even with everything, there’s been a lot of good experiences and benefits from all the rough times… now we all see life from a different perspective.”