In many ways, Dillon Brooks is a typical 8-year-old South Florida kid.
A sweet boy, Dillon is active and into everything. He has a room full of Dolphins memorabilia. He watches games every Sunday with his family, rooting on his heroes.
But Brooks is different in two significant ways. He’s autistic. And he has brain cancer.
On Sunday afternoon, while his favorite team aims for its first 3-0 start since 2002, Dillon will be 1,500 miles north, preparing for a true battle.
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On Monday, he will undergo revolutionary brain surgery intended to save his life. Doctors at Boston’s Dana-Farber Children’s Hospital will try to stave off a highly aggressive malignant brain tumor with gene transfer therapy. Chemotherapy and radiation treatment will follow.
But he won’t do it alone. He has Jeff Ireland, Joe Philbin, Mike Pouncey and plenty of other Dolphins in his corner.
The Dolphins have quietly adopted Dillon, whose father, Drew, has been a part of the organization for nearly a decade.
In addition to being a detective with the Pembroke Pines Police Department, Drew Brooks is part of the Dolphins’ road detail, working under Stu Weinstein, the team’s director of security.
“Drew’s been like a brother to me,” said Ireland, the Dolphins general manager. “The Dolphins are involved because of the kind of people they are. You just want to help people like that.”
Brooks’ Dolphins responsibilities include looking after Ireland’s family on game days, and over the years, they became close. When Drew and wife Caroline learned Dillon was autistic, the Irelands, who have two autistic children of their own, were quick to help.
Although his father is careful not to impose on the organization, Dillon gradually got to know Dolphins players, coaches and staff members during occasional visits and team parties.
So after doctors discovered the cancer last month, the Dolphins — along with police officers from all over South Florida, but particularly Pembroke Pines PD — sprung into action.
When the cancer was first discovered, Jeff’s wife Rachel was at the hospital every day. Philbin and his wife Diane have been by the house to visit with Dillon. Pouncey checks in all the time. Weinstein has been a constant presence, too.
“I can’t even express to you the outpouring of support from the whole organization,” Drew Brooks said. “Being there and doing the little things, offering support, no matter what it is — I’m kind of a keep-things-to-myself kind of guy, but I can’t even describe the support that they’ve given to me and my family.”
But hugs, well-wishes and casseroles only go so far. The family needs more. It needs money.
The diagnosis came as a shock. Dillon suffered from no symptoms and showed no prior warnings.
The initial surgery, a six-hour procedure performed at Miami Children’s Hospital, removed the bulk of the tumor. Yet the pathology report was dire.
Dillon suffers from glioblastoma multiforme, the most common type of brain cancer. Former Dolphins president Bryan Wiedmeier, who is now an executive with the Cleveland Browns, was diagnosed with the same strand of cancer last year.
Surgery alone wasn’t enough to put Dillon in the clear. That’s why he’s undergoing the gene therapy, a promising, yet nonconventional procedure intended to kill the infected cells and save the healthy ones.
Rachel Ireland was instrumental in finding the Boston hospital that specializes in the treatment, spending long hours on the Internet researching the illness.
But there is fear the family’s insurance company will balk at paying for it. Bills are expected to mount.
And so, Pouncey has become the family’s unofficial fundraiser. He made a solicitation on Twitter for donations Tuesday, and his brother Maurkice, a center for the Steelers, did the same.
“Dillon’s a tough kid,” Pouncey said. “He’s a kid that’s already had his struggles in life. … I just hate to see that.
“Drew’s a great friend of mine. I’d do anything for him.”
Those interested in helping Dillon Brooks financially are asked to contact The PBA Hope Fund at 954-584-7600 between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Checks can be sent to 18459 Pines Blvd. #287, Pembroke Pines, FL, 33029-1400. They should be made out to the PBA Hope Fund, and write “Team Dillon” in the memo section.