Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
“I will be a fighter and strive to be as strong and relentless as he was.”
BAINBRIDGE — There are multiple memories that still burn like a fire inside Olivia Smith’s mind.
When she looks into the stands and bleachers, she can see her grandfather sitting here, smiling and supporting her, no matter the sport she’s playing. Or if she dives deeper, she’s a little girl and her “pap” is pushing her on a swing or taking her for impromptu rides on his mower.
Those memories, along with many others, can never be taken away from her.
“We were very close. He worked a lot but he was always at our games and anything else we were involved in, anytime he could be,” Olivia said. “He was a very hard worker and very strong. He loved to watch his grandkids play sports and he always had a smile on his face. He never gave up, he loved us all very much and always encouraged us. He was proud of us, no matter what and he didn’t cut us any slack either. He offered what we could do better, but also always told us what we did well, too.”
Kind. Caring. Unconditionally loving.
That’s who Olivia’s pap was and those are the characteristics she’ll always remember about him in her heart.
Unfortunately, Larry Brenneman passed away this past January, after finally giving in to a lengthy battle with multiple health issues.
For Larry, it was a long, winding road. But he wasn’t alone on that journey. His family, including Olivia, was right there beside him the entire way.
“My pap got sick initially back in March 2019. After a few hospitalizations and finally an admission to the Cleveland Clinic, they diagnosed him with a protein disorder called Amyloidosis,” Olivia said. “That caused him to have an irregular heartbeat and congestive heart failure.”
In effect, doctors were forced to place stents in Larry’s heart. He then went on a strict, low-salt diet while taking blood thinners and water pills.
“He actually needed a heart transplant because there is no cure for it. In July, he had a blockage in his bile duct and while they were in there to clean it out and put a stent in to keep it open, they found cancer in his pancreas,” Olivia recalled. “A few weeks later, the stent they put in got blocked and he went into septic shock and almost died.”
Things had gone from bad to worse.
But Larry kept fighting.
That, in a broad sense, was one of the last lessons he taught Olivia … to never give up, no matter what’s at stake.
“They were able to put a new [stent] in and he bounced right back. The doctor believed that his cancer was in the very early stages, so they thought they could remove it and cure him from it,” Olivia said. “They had to take care of this before he could be eligible to get a new heart. So he had the surgery in October and did very well. It was a big risk for him to have it because of his heart condition, but he did great.”
However, after receiving a glimpse of hope, Larry’s health took another turn towards the worse this past January.
Close to eight weeks after the surgery, he seemed weaker than he normally was. Doctors then found abnormalities and in infection in his bloodwork. After a CAT scan and biopsy showed lived cancer, he scheduled a follow-up appointment to decide on a treatment plan.
“On his way home from the [Cleveland Clinic], he got confused and by the time my Nana got home with him from Cleveland, he couldn’t stand,” Olivia said. “He had to go back to the hospital and they did a scan of his head and saw that he had had a stroke, and found lots of small blood clots in his head. He couldn’t even move his right side.”
Doctors initially thought the cancer had triggered an autoimmune problem, one that was causing his heart to grow clots. Soon after, thanks to a mix of everything, he suffered a seizure.
That, unfortunately, was the beginning of the end.
“He wasn’t very responsive anymore,” Olivia said. “My pap didn’t want to live on machines or be bedridden, so it was time to stop. We decided on hospice care and they took very good care of him at Cleveland Clinic.”
Larry’s fight ended on Jan. 17, 2020.
But still, his journey on Earth isn’t quite finished. Through it all, Larry’s fighting spirit was there.
It enveloped those around him, it inspired many, and for Olivia and her family, it continues to teach them valuable lessons to this day.
“I know that he is with Jesus now and he can run and is healthy, and I know I’ll see him again some day,” Olivia said. “I try to help out with things at home so my mom doesn’t have to worry about doing everything. Also, I plan on staying with my Nana a lot so she’s not home alone all the time. I promised my pap I would. My mom is pretty strong. She’s been through a lot this past year. We’ve had a lot of big life events take place. My sister graduated from high school and got married, I started driving, and my pap has been sick and in and out of the hospital. Nana has kept it together and been strong and hopeful the whole time. She never missed a beat, and that, in itself, is an inspiration to me.”
Larry’s sense of persistence is a trait that’s been passed down.
You’d be hard-pressed to find an athlete that competes harder than Olivia does, whether it be on the volleyball and basketball courts, or on the softball diamond.
And when she is competing, she makes sure her pap is always with her.
On her basketball shoes, an inscription simply reads, “Pap.” It’s a tradition she plans on continuing throughout the season and throughout her career.
“I’ve put words of encouragement on my shoes before but my pap is all of those things. That’s why I chose to [write Pap]. He fought for months through many different health issues,” Olivia said. “I feel like our season has kind of been like that. We started out with injuries and I had mono and was out for our entire preseason and our first few games. But we’ve been fighting to get back … and that’s what he did, no matter how many new things they threw at him. He just kept fighting. I want to be like that. So I’m not only dedicating the rest of this season to him but the rest of my high school career. Basketball, volleyball, and softball. I will be a fighter and strive to be as strong and relentless as he was.”
With his name on her shoes, his memory in her heart and his fingerprints on her character, Larry Brennaman still sits in those stands and bleachers,and with that same smile he’s always had.
You may not be able to see him, but Olivia sure can.
“It was so important to me. Not only him, but my entire family always comes anytime they can,” Olivia said. “I’m lucky that way. A lot of kids don’t have that. Remembering that [her pap] was there is something I’ll always remember and be grateful for.”