CLEVELAND -- Five-year old Ryan Encinas was introduced as the newest member of the Cleveland Browns to the crowd of 24,131 at the end of the annual Family Night practice at FirstEnergy Stadium Saturday. The Cuyahoga Falls native then brought the fans to their feet and tears to many eyes when he ran for a 50-yard touchdown with the entire Browns team surrounding him the entire way.
Encinas is two years removed from being diagnosed with Pleuropulmonary Blastoma (PPB), an aggressive and very rare form of cancer that has nearly an 80-percent recurrence rate.
“How about that first-round draft pick, Ryan Encinas, scoring the winning touchdown tonight,” Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said following practice. “Anything we can do to make somebody’s day better, I’m all for it.”
Encinas was led to the goal line by Browns running back
“To be at that stadium and having everyone yelling his name, yelling for him and cheering him on, I can’t imagine,” said Robert Encinas, Ryan’s father. “There’s nothing that he’s afraid of. He’s so happy to meet anybody and everybody. (The Littlest Heroes) thought that would be the perfect fit, a boy that would be excited and thrilled, not scared, and very outgoing.”
Earlier in the week, Ryan attended a training-camp practice at the Browns' facility. In addition to getting autographs from his favorite players, Ryan challenged linebackers
“My favorite part was when he asked one of the players to race him and he took off racing down the field,” Angela Bozic, Ryan’s mother, said. “I don’t know if you can comprehend how amazing that is. This is a kid who underwent all that treatment, who suffered surgery that left him with half of a lung on his left side, who has undergone so much. It’s amazing.”
Encinas was referred to the Browns for Saturday’s special moment by The Littlest Heroes. The Littlest Heroes works with local families who have had a child diagnosed with cancer deal with the emotional and financial struggles brought on by the treatments.
“He’s not quite out of the woods,” Bozic said. “Every three months, he will need to go back to the hospital to receive full-body scans. They focus on his brain, his lungs and his abdomen. That’s one of the places this particular cancer likes to return. He’ll have to have that for the next five years. We have three years left.”
Two years ago, Ryan was a healthy three-year old who enjoyed every minute of life. But his family knew something was wrong when the normally energetic boy was not acting like himself.
“For a couple of months, he had suffered from what we thought were allergies,” Bozic said. “He had cold symptoms, and we tried a variety of different treatments. Nothing seemed to work, and then, on Oct. 31, of 2010, his breathing changed. He was real pale, lethargic, and something just wasn’t right.
“When we took him into the ER, that was the first thing they thought as well, and even after listening to his lungs, they did an x-ray. They took me out into the hall to show me and I remember them saying, ‘We’re not sure what this is on his left side, but it’s very concerning. We’re bringing in a surgeon.’ I didn’t realize what was going on, but then, they said the word, ‘tumor,’ and that really scared me.”
The tumor was so large that it shifted Encinas’ heart and bent his trachea, which collapsed his left lung. The doctors removed the football-sized tumor from Encinas’ left lung, but he lost much of the organ in the process.
“They did not give him a very good prognosis to begin with,” Bozic said. “Because of how aggressive and rare it is, they gave him a 40-percent chance. He underwent chemo right away. When we went into the hospital, they put him on a ventilator because he only had one working lung at the time.”
Despite the pain, Encinas never lost the happy-go-lucky attitude and smiled his way through every doctor visit, surgery and chemotherapy treatment.
“He was amazing,” Bozic said. “He stayed positive, very happy, very friendly with everyone. He had no fear of doctors or nurses, or the many visitors that we had.”
Robert Encinas added, “He kept us grounded. It really was his determination to be happy, and not even realize how bad off he was, not realizing the gravity of the situation he was in. He’s definitely happy-go-luck. Nothing really intimidates him. He says, ‘Hi,’ to everybody he meets, always has a smile, always ready to have fun, play, the general life of anywhere he’s at.”