The start of a school year can be daunting for anyone, more so for children with special needs. Which was why despite battling cancer, police officer Andy Matteline was determined to guide his 5-year old son, Carmine, to his first day of kindergarten.
Carmine has autism, and faces challenges in relation to social skills, behavior, speech, and communication. Andy and the whole family, including his wife Mary, and their 3-year-old daughter, Evelyn, had been spending considerable time preparing him to interact with other children.
Unfortunately, Andy, a member of the City of Woodson Terrace Police Department in Missouri, had undergone surgery for esophageal and stomach cancer at the Saint Louis University Hospital. Still, he was resolute in his plan to see his son off to school.
“This is one of the biggest days and I didn’t want to miss this. He means the world to me. We’ve been through a lot together.” So he was understandably overwhelmed when his doctors allowed him to leave the hospital for a few hours to attend his son’s first day of school in the Rockwood School District.
Unknown to him and understanding that he was in the throes of battling cancer, his colleagues had promised to step in and walk his son to school in the event that he was too sick to do it himself. According to Officer Chris Kaatman, “We decided we need to pay it back to him and be here for his family. We’re friends but we’re family also. We want to do whatever we can to again make this day special for him and his family.”
More than 20 police officers from Woodson Terrace and nine other police departments – St. John, Bel-Bor, Breckenridge Hills, Chesterfield, Maryland Heights, Warson Woods, Normandy, Webster Groves, and St. Louis County, plus and deputies from the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, had already gathered for the first-day-of-school walk.
As Carmine was getting ready to make the trek from his home to his kindergarten class with his police escort, everyone was surprised when Andy suddenly appeared, accompanied by two nurses and his brother-in-law, who happened to be a physician. Andy, in turn, was overcome by the touching gesture of his friends. He had no idea that his fellow officers would be there! “Get the joy, you can’t buy that, get the happiness; this is awesome,” Andy told the group.
“It’s an overwhelming amount of support that I just can’t process right now. I just love the support … I can’t thank anybody enough.” Mary Matteline added, “It’s pretty amazing. It’s so touching to see everyone here and everyone that hears about Andy wants to be there for Carmine.”
School can be tough on a toddler, particularly if your father is battling cancer. But the Woodson Terrace Police came through for one of their own. The whole group then walked Carmine to Kehrs Mills Elementary School. It was certainly a special moment for everyone. Andy said, “I just can’t wait to release him into the world. To his first step to transition into becoming something we all want to see him flourish into.”
After the walk, there were hugs and handshakes of support, and Andy returned to the hospital to finish his recovery. Andy remains grateful to his fellow police officers for their support. Battling cancer remains the challenge of a lifetime, but the doting father wasn’t about to let his illness stop him from being with his son for this milestone event. Now he can work on his recovery and be with his family for good.