Dave D’Andrea describes himself as an ordinary man, perhaps that’s why he tells the story of his life in fewer than 100 pages even though the circumstances of his life are extraordinary—he is a survivor of polio, a survivor of stage-three cancer and a survivor of sexual abuse. And by his reckoning, he has had two, perhaps three, miracles in his life.
On the cover of his book, “Tear Drops: Enjoy Life, Trust in God,” is a simple, yet profound, message:
“This is the life of ups and downs of an ordinary man who went through extraordinary issues.
Whose gratitude is utmost for his faith, family and friends.
Faith, hope and love are paramount in life, and the greatest is love.
Enjoy life no matter the ups and downs … and pray.”
Just who is Dave D’Andrea? He’s the father of a son and daughter and grandfather of two children. He is a Greenwich native who has held different positions, including operations manager for the town’s golf course, landscape consultant, basketball coach, former member of the town’s legislative body and several other volunteer memberships.
He is proud to be an American and even prouder to be an Italian-American. (On the cover of his book are the flags of America and Italy.) Most importantly, he is an “ordinary man” by his own admission—an ordinary man who has suffered and known joy.
You could say that “Tear Drops” isn’t the story of his life, but more appropriately the story of God at work in his life. It recounts the tragic episodes and crises where he often had no recourse other than to turn to God…and God was there. It is the story of the evolution of a strong faith in God and Our Lady.
D’Andrea started life with some hurdles, he says, coming from a low-income family with three older brothers, who lived in a small apartment in one of the world’s wealthiest towns. At the time, his father worked as a landscaper on an estate where President Herbert Hoover’s son lived.
D’Andrea says he was the first person to be cured of polio in the United States in 1958, but the procedure and hospital isolation were extremely challenging for a boy of 8. He recalls the doctors showing him the size of the needle they would use to inject the vaccine and assuring him that he would get the biggest lollipop imaginable if he endured the procedure. He did.
Five years later, he says, the pastor of the church in the Chickahominy neighbor of Greenwich molested him in the rectory while he was there to help move boxes in his office.
For 40 years, D’Andrea kept that secret from the rest of the world, a secret so dark and spiritually corrosive that it affected his health and led to post-traumatic stress disorder.
Although his mother knew, she never told her husband for fear of what he might do. Only recently has D’Andrea found peace, hope and fellowship in a survivors group formed by the Diocese of Bridgeport.
“Bishop Frank Caggiano reached out to me, and it was absolutely the best thing that ever happened,” D’Andrea said. “We had a long meeting, more than 2-1/2 hours, and I was amazed at his ability to listen and offer me his deepest apology and whatever else he could do. I learned a lot when he came into my life because he is a strong believer in prayer and Mother Mary.”
Despite torment over the abuse and a series of serious health issues that culminated several years ago with stage-three cancer, he said, “The Lord took me through each time. My faith never wavered, just my respect for some priests…I always trusted in God. I always prayed because I believe in prayer, big time.”
That summer afternoon, his mother rescued him by calling the rectory because he was late for dinner. When he told her over the phone what had happened, she ordered him to leave immediately and met him at the front door of the rectory. For many years, she shared his secret, although they never discussed the incident.
He said, “You ask ‘Why?’ You ask ‘Why me?’ The best thing you can do is to reach deep into your faith, and trust in God and the professionals and the other survivors who can help you. That bond will be life-altering and the healing will begin.”
Erin Neil, Director of Safe Environment and Victim Assistance Coordinator of the Diocese of Bridgeport, has worked with D’Andrea and says: “David gives courageous witness to the terrifying ordeal of childhood sexual abuse, physical pain and human suffering. His story is inspirational and hopeful. He brings awareness to the issue of child sexual abuse and helps survivors to feel safe coming forward in our diocese. David’s journey demonstrates at every turn of the page that true healing comes from God and from our faith.”
On May 21, 2013, D’Andrea was diagnosed with stage-three rectal cancer, and it was one of the darkest, most painful periods of his life.
“The radiation and chemo were brutally excruciating,” he recalled. “I suffered such great loneliness, and I would pray so much and so hard and cry and wonder why this was happening to me. That’s when you have to trust God the most. The power of prayer is beyond belief. That is one thing I have learned through all the peaks and valleys—you can never waver even on the bad days. One night, the pain and suffering was beyond belief, and I said to God, ‘Why don’t you just take me?’ I got a call from my doctor, Jim Brunetti, and he said, ‘God knows you’re fighting like a heavyweight fighter, and you’re going to make it.’”
Dave’s daughter, Lynn Fein, who worked at Greenwich Hospital, was able to get a consultation with a leading expert at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, who oversaw his treatment, which included six months of chemotherapy followed by 40 days of radiation at Greenwich Hospital. In March 2016, he underwent 12 hours of surgery at Memorial Sloan Kettering.
“I have never in my life gone through pain and agony like that,” he says. “It has been many years of recuperating, and today I am in remission, although I am physically disabled to a certain extent with damage to my legs and back from the radiation. But I am dealing with it, and I am extremely grateful that I lived to see my two grandchildren.”
When he talks about his recovery, he always credits Our Lady of Lourdes through the efforts of his cousin, Monsignor Joseph Giandurco, pastor of St. Patrick’s in Yorktown Heights, NY, who celebrated a healing Mass for him and brought holy water from Lourdes to bless him when he began his cancer treatment.
D’Andrea still has that bottle of holy water and continues to share it with others who are suffering or ill. And while he has never gone on a pilgrimage to Lourdes, he knows Our Lady was instrumental in his recovery.
Last year, D’Andrea reached out to bring the Lourdes experience to the Diocese of Bridgeport through a “Lourdes Virtual Pilgrimage Experience” at St. Mary Church in Stamford at which Bishop Caggiano offered a Eucharistic blessing.
The event featured a candlelight rosary, holy water from the shrine and rocks from the grotto at Massabielle, where the Blessed Virgin appeared to Bernadette Soubirous, a 14-year-old French peasant girl, in 1858.
Every year, 6 million pilgrims travel to Lourdes, one of the most revered Marian shrines in the world, to pray to Our Lady. Many go in the hope they will receive a healing at the spring the Blessed Virgin revealed to St. Bernadette. In the 160 years since the apparitions, thousands of people have been healed in the waters, and 70 have been recognized as miraculous cures by the Church.
Today, D’Andrea lives his life looking for God’s guidance and professing a strong devotion to Our Lady.
“My faith is deeper than ever,” he says. “Did I ever doubt God? On the dark days, I would say, ‘Why? Why are you letting me suffer like this?’ But even during the abuse, I never doubted God or my religion, especially because of my connection to Mother Mary. It is Mother Mary I would always turn to.”
Dave decided to write his story and share it because he believes that everyone who puts faith and trust in God can enjoy life, regardless of what happens. That, he says, is the secret of an ordinary man … and it will work for everyone.
(“Tear Drops” by David D’Andrea is available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.)