Andrew Berard’s worst nightmare started with a recurring case of pneumonia.
The Thousand Oaks High senior baseball player was a sophomore when he and his parents, John and Mary Berard, sought lung specialists to figure out why the Lancer couldn’t shake his cough.
On May 18, 2015, doctors at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles found there was a blockage that wouldn’t allow Andrew Berard’s lungs to filter out the “gunk,” the 18-year-old said.
He returned two days later to go under the knife of cardiothoracic surgeon Winfield Wells, who planned on performing a bronchoscopy at 9 a.m. that frightful Friday morning.
A routine two-hour surgery turned into what Mary Berard calls “the longest six hours of our lives.”
“They thought they had to take out a small portion of my lung because of the blockage,” Andrew Berard said, “but the blockage ended up being a tumor.”
Wells removed two-thirds of Berard’s right lung to battle the lung cancer.
Berard woke up to flashing lights, intertwined tubes and beeping machines in the intensive care unit.
“I felt like I was in a movie when they told me,” he said. “It’s one of those things you never really expect to have happen to you. I was hooked up to all the monitors, and they were going off like a movie scene. I didn’t know what to do. I just cried.”
While it was a frightening scene to wake up to, things could have gone much worse for the Lancer.
His lung was in such bad shape that it crumbled when doctors removed it. An infection forced Berard to stay in the hospital for two weeks.
“The surgeon said it could have easily ruptured and killed Andrew before the surgery,” Mary Berard said. “The doctors and nurses at CHLA are truly heroic human beings.”
Andrew Berard lost nearly 20 pounds during his hospital stay, but he gained a new outlook on life.
“While I was in the hospital I’d see all these kids without any hair walking around, really slim,” he said. “They had a lot of stuff going on. Compared to them, I had it easy. I just had to get my lung out and I was out after two weeks. It put things into perspective for me.
“No matter what you’re going through, there’s always someone going through worse.”
The support from family and friends was overwhelming, Berard said. Even his “dweeb” brother, Ryan, a Thousand Oaks freshman, couldn’t keep his emotions in check.
“He doesn’t really like to show his emotions towards me, but when he found out, he did cry,” Andrew Berard said of his brother. “It was really emotional for him, too.”
Thousand Oaks teammate Ben Martz said hearing the heavy news of his beloved teammate was tough to cope with at first.
“It’s not too often you hear some 16- or 17-year-old kid coming down with something like that,” Martz said. “It wasn’t fathomable at the time. I didn’t really understand the gravity of the situation.
“It was hard, but I knew he was a fighter, and I knew he’d get through it.”
Teammates Blake Campbell and Jakob Allen visited Berard in the hospital, bringing him all his favorite candies, especially watermelon Sour Patch Kids.
Students rallied around Berard, signing a giant poster board for their recovering classmate.
“It was cool for them to be there for me when I needed them,” Berard said.
Thousand Oaks head coach Jack Wilson, who has known Berard since he was a freshman, said Berard’s strength in the most trying moment of his life makes him an inspiration to all Lancers.
“You can look at a guy like Berard, who’s been through some serious down times, and he still has that upbeat sense of humor,” Wilson said. “He’s still out here busting his hump. When he’s out here running, other guys see it. They understand, ‘If he’s getting after it, I’m going to get after it.’ He’s a model Lancer here at T.O.”
Martz said Berard helped the whole team gain insight on what’s truly important in life.
“With a wake-up call like that, for everybody on the team, we all realized how special life is and how easily it can maybe be taken away,” the catcher said. “I think Andrew came back from a difficult situation and had more care for what he was doing. He also made sure he had more fun.”
Berard, who played junior varsity baseball his first two seasons, returned to the diamond during the fall of his junior year to earn a spot on the varsity roster.
“I took me awhile to get back into it,” he said. “The effects weren’t that bad. I’m still able to be out here now, like any other guy, except for the fact I get tired more easily.”
With the cancer in remission, Berard said he deals with some nagging side effects.
“It’s caused me to have this wheezing thing sometimes,” he said, “which is kind of annoying, but it’s all right.
“It beats cancer.”
The senior, who bats lefty and throws righty, said he’s glad to be on the road to a full recovery while enjoying the sport he’s loved since he started playing as a 6-year-old in Conejo Valley Little League.
Berard, who played shortstop on JV for Wilson’s father, Butch Wilson, is a versatile ballplayer.
“Give him a glove and he can play anywhere,” Jack Wilson said. “As a hitter, he’s a scrappy type of guy. He’s a hard guy to get out. When he hits it, he runs like the wind.”
Berard’s been solid at first base this year, using his lanky 6-foot-3 frame to snag throws anywhere near the bag.
He found his groove at the dish in April during the Lions Baseball Tournament in San Diego. Berard went three-for-four with a home run, double and three RBI against Del Norte.
Berard entered the week hitting .282 with 12 RBI and 22 runs scored this season. Only Martz has crossed home plate more than Berard, who has a .393 on-base percentage.
Berard, an honors student who maintains a 4.2 grade-point average, is considering walking on the baseball team at UCLA, where he plans on studying psychology.
A leader of the Green Hole, the school’s rowdy student section, Berard also teamed up with Conrad Bluth, a friend who attends Westlake, to coach a Conejo Valley Youth Basketball team this winter.
Berard spent his past two summers volunteering at Camp Helping Hands at Cal Lutheran University.
“We get a lot of privileged kids who are born into good situations,” he said. “We try to teach them there are less fortunate people than you out there.”
Berard’s story of surviving lung cancer catches the attention of all the kids at the camp.
He’s an inspiration for Thousand Oaks.
He’s an inspiration for the baseball community and cancer survivors around the world.
“Be thankful for everything at any moment,” Berard said.
Email Jonathan Andrade at email@example.com.
The survivor in a nutshell
Andrew Berard, a Thousand Oaks High senior, was close to death before doctor’s removed a cancerous tumor in his right lung two years ago. Surgeons removed two-thirds of Berard’s lung to save his life and help him get back on the baseball diamond.
• Food: In-N-Out Burger
• Rapper: Chance the Rapper
• Band: Red Hot Chili Peppers
• Baseball player: Ted Williams
• TV show: “The Office”
• Movies: “Good Will Hunting” and “Pulp Fiction”
• Dream vacation: Snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef in Australia