Buena Vista University student Andrew Gasaway passed away Tuesday after a long battle with heart ailments.
"He really wasn't supposed to live past a few years, and the long-term prognosis was that he needed a heart," said Joe Patten, Gasaway's academic advisor. Gasaway was just completing his junior year and had been elected as a student senator when he was put in the hospital on April 30.
"I visited him in the hospital and saw him when he was in really bad shape," Patten said. "And then I saw him when he was doing much better. While we were all optimistic and knew he was capable of unbelievable things, the medical realities were sobering."
After a series of complications, his other organs started to suffer the same fate as his heart.
"He began having problems with his kidneys," Patten said. "They tried to get his kidney strong enough and get him to a stable situation where he would be able to endure a heart transplant. Unfortunately, that never happened."
According to Gasaway's grandmother, Geri Hess, in a newspaper article in his hometown of Mason City, Andy Gasaway packed a lot of living in short life. Andy was "born with a two-chambered heart, no spleen, severe scoliosis and kyphosis (spinal curvatures). Andy had undergone two heart bypass operations and partial paralysis before he was a year old... He spent two years in a full-body cast starting at the age of six months."
As Gasaway grew older, he decided to live his life as best as he could. At the age of six, Gasaway was named as a March of Dimes Ambassador for the North Iowa Division.
He was later chosen to represent the Multiple Dystrophy Association on a state level, as a spokesperson for the campaign to eliminate birth defects.
Eventually Gasaway applied his public speaking skills in a different direction by lending his talents to the Stebens Children's Theatre in Mason City. He will especially be remembered for his lead role as Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol, a part which he laughingly said he was "born to play." His interest in the theatre continued through his high school years at Newman Catholic High School. In addition to earning several parts in school musicals, in 1996, he was cast in the Mason City Community Theater production of The Music Man.
While in high school he also had a strong interest in vocal and instrumental music and speech.
After Gasaway graduated from high school in 1998, he originally chose to attend BVU to pursue an education in business, but later changed his major to political science. He had the goal of representing Iowans - especially those with disabilities.
"I first met Andy when he was a business major," Patten said. "After he enrolled in my Introduction to Government class and shared interesting perspectives, I persuaded him into joining the debate team - which I also coach. Then, after Andy became a political science major, I had him in a lot of other classes. I have spent over 10 days with him in Washington, D.C., spent over 120 hours in a van with him going to weekend debate tournaments, and have also traveled with him to political science conferences."
Gasaway proved to be very dedicated to the debate team.
"The great thing about Andy is that he was very assertive with a lot of positive energy," Patten said. "He was very animated."
It was because of that assertiveness, that the debate team chose to nickname him, "Mad Dog."
"I was on the debate team with Andy last year," sophomore Drew Fay said. "It was my first year debating, and he taught me a lot about debate. He was genuinely a fun person to be around. I remember him always being in a good mood and having a great sense of humor."
"The debate team will memorialize him on our shirts and is dedicating the year to him," Patten said.
In addition to being a member of the Debate Team, Gasaway was also on Pierce Hall Council and was elected last spring to serve as a BVU student senator. When he could not return in the fall, he was the given the student senator title of "Honorary Member."
Above all else, Gasaway loved, and was loved, by his family. He traveled extensively with his parents and brother, Matt, and sister, Leah. They explored Spain and Mexico in recent years, in addition to his favorite destination, Washington, D.C.
Gasaway was also a devoted Chicago Cubs fan who enjoyed making a pilgrimage to Spring Training in Arizona, as well as cheering on the Cubbies at many games in Wrigley Field. His also was an avid fisherman whose adventures included deep sea fishing.
Although Gasaway will not be able to represent the students, argue in a debate or sing in a musical, his spirit will always be with the people he reached.
"Andy touched a lot of people," Patten said. "He made you recognize that...we have to life to the fullest. His positive energy made it almost impossible for people to feel sorry for him. I never really saw Andy as someone with a handicap or an illness. His personality required you to accept him as a human being and not to worry about his illness."
His friends will never forget Gasaway's positive attitude towards life.
"Andy was a great friend," junior Brian Rosenstock said. "He always found a way for people see past his disability. If you met Andy one time, you never forgot him, it's just the way he made you realize how great life was. There are a million things about him that I would remember: his laugh, how he found a way to be optimistic about anything, but most of all, I will remember how much he loved life and the friends and family he had."
In addition to achieving a positive outlook, Gasaway also taught Fay to hang on when life seems most difficult.
"What I will remember most about Andy is that he never let me feel sorry for him, because he never seemed to feel sorry for himself," Fay said.
Not only will Gasaway be missed by his friends and family, he will also be missed by the BVU community.
"Andy was an outstanding leader on campus with infectious enthusiasm for life," BVU President Fred Moore said. "He waged a courageous battle with his illness and through it maintained the utmost in grace."
Michael Gasaway wants to make sure Buena Vista University knew that, "Andy loved Buena Vista and sorry he isn't able to be here this year."
Funeral services were held Friday, Oct. 12, at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Mason City. An on-campus memorial service is being planned for a future date at BVU.
This article is reprinted with permission from the Oct. 12 edition of BVU's student newspaper, The Tack.