When I got on the phone with Alicia and Drew Booker, I was expecting a somber conversation.
With Drew battling a terminal illness and Alicia facing the possibility of losing him, it was bound to be a sob-fest. What I wasn’t prepared for was the laughter and joy I would share with them on our hour-long chat.
When Alicia first saw Drew in a prayer circle at her church more than ten years ago, she was drawn to him and instantly wanted to know more about him. A few months later, the two were married.
They’d only been dating for a week when Drew proposed outside the Franklin Cinema in Franklin, Tennessee, where they’d had their first date. The marquee outside the theater read, “Will you marry me, Alicia?” On April 22nd, 2005 they were wed in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, by Drew’s father, a pastor who had met the bride mere hours before officiating the wedding. The two have been inseparable ever since.
But, just two months after the wedding, Drew became ill. He already lived with juvenile diabetes and an autoimmune condition called Alopecia Areata, but now he was having seizures. Doctors diagnosed him with epilepsy and he was having multiple grand mal seizures every month — a type of seizure where you lose consciousness and suffer violent muscle contractions, according to the Mayo Clinic.
“When he first had one, I thought he had died,” Alicia told The Mighty. “It was the worst experience of my life. It’s traumatic.”
This was just the first of many grueling hospital visits and diagnoses to come for the couple. Drew’s doctors discovered a new condition he had nearly every year — Celiac disease, IgA immune deficiency and Autonomic Autoimmune Ganglionopathy, which is a blood cell process disorder that Drew is to date the youngest person ever diagnosed with it. Most recently Drew found out he also has a condition called Buds-Chiari syndrome.
Buds-Chiari syndrome is also known as Hepatic vein obstruction. It’s a blockage of the hepatic vein, which carries blood away from the liver, according to the National Library of Medicine. Drew’s blockage was caused by a blood clot, and he’s currently in stage IV liver failure. Normally a liver transplant would be an option, but because of his previous autoimmune conditions, Drew is not a candidate for liver transplant surgery.
His liver has such extensive damage that it should not still be working, but his currently is. Doctors have given him a vague timeline of months to years to live.
“If I present all the conditions I suffer from on paper, doctors say, ‘This guy has months to live,’” Drew told The Mighty. “But when they give me a physical they just don’t know.”
Facing an uncertain amount of time left together, the Bookers decided to work on their “True Love Bucket List.” On their website, they’ve both compiled lists of things they want to do for and with each other before it’s too late. Alicia’s list includes taking a pottery class together, getting a tattoo together and kissing on top of the Empire State Building. Drew’s includes kissing Alicia under the Eiffel Tower, giving her at least 100 more foot, hand and back rubs, and a cross-country drive together.
“The True Love Bucket List was created by us to inspire others to love each other more,” Alicia told The Mighty. “It’s not a sad story, it’s a beautiful story that we are sharing with others.”
The list only went online two weeks ago, but already the couple can cross one thing off — they recently went to Harry Potter World in the Universal Orlando Resort in Orlando, Florida.
Despite everything they’ve been through in the last ten years, the Bookers are some of the most cheerful people I’ve had the pleasure of conversing with. The two were laughing and finishing each other’s sentences while recounting their story for me, even interrupting one another for a good-natured joke.
Drew genuinely means it when he tells me that it’s all been fun — even the dark times — because he has had Alicia by his side.
“When I look back at the last ten years I don’t see a life of suffering, I only see good and happy times,” he told The Mighty. “I feel like I can sit through the hardest things, physical and emotional, because I have her. That fact is enough to sustain me through anything.”
“I don’t see Andrew as a sick person,” Alicia told The Mighty. “I love him, I love his heart, I love his mind.”
When Alicia briefly left the conversation and Drew had me all to himself, he couldn’t wait to tell me everything he loves about his magnificent wife. But it’s this little detail that stuck out to me:
He explained that now when they hug she has to hold him up. When she does this, he rests his head on her shoulder and she unknowingly lets out a little sigh. Drew cherishes that noise.
“Just one of those little sighs to me is worth the cost of a thousand seizures any day,” he said.