Just one year ago, Patty and Joe Furco were making funeral arrangements for their 10-year-old daughter, Abby.
But the resilient 5th grader, who was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia in 2011, has made a “miraculous” recovery according to her doctors — and getting back to her bubbly, social self.
“She told us, ‘I have so much living to do,’ ” Patty, a stay-at-home mom, tells PEOPLE. “We’ve stopped asking why she’s made this recovery and just started looking to her future.”
At the age of 4, Abby was diagnosed with Philadelphia chromosome-positive acute lymphoblastic leukemia and given a 20 percent chance of survival.
“We were devastated,” says Patty. “We were basically told that she was was going to die, there was very little hope.”
Patty, Joe and their other two children, Maggie, 12, and Emily, 5, spent the next six years in and out of hospitals, where Abby underwent a bone marrow transplant, intense chemotherapy and radiation treatments and a trial drug.
“We kept her surrounded by love because we knew at any moment we could lose her,” says Patty. “There were moments we didn’t know if she’d pull through, she has so many infections that could have ended her life.
“All we could do was watch her fight and try to get better.”
In October 2013, Abby finished treatment and for one “beautiful” year she returned to school, hung out with friends at soccer practice and joined the Girl Scouts.
But then the cancer came back in September 2014.
“As hard as that first diagnosis was, this one tested every ounce of our being,” says Patty. “She became completely immobile, any movement hurt her and she hardly spoke.”
Abby and her family moved from their Virginia Beach, Virginia, home where Joe is a commander in the U.S. Navy to be closer to Chicago, where her hospital is located.
In February 2015, she was diagnosed with Graft-versus-host disease, a condition where donated marrow attacks the body.
When her kidneys started failing in May 2016 and she was put in intensive care, doctors told the Furcos that their daughter would live only 48 hours if she was taken off of dialysis.
“Doctors told us it was time to let her go, she was only awake for like an hour each day,” says Patty. “We began preparing our other daughters for her death.”
Abby was brought back to Virginia under hospice care last June to spend her last days surrounded by friends and family in her home. Her grandparents flew in to say their final goodbyes.
Patty and Joe even began making funeral arrangements, picking out caskets and service music.
But then Abby woke up.
“We couldn’t believe it, in a matter of days, weeks, months she started walking and getting stronger,” says Patty. “It’s an absolute miracle.”
Abby’s doctor, pediatric hematologist and oncologist Jacob Wessler, says there’s no real explanation for her sudden recovery.
“She was very, very sick and her body was shutting down slowly and her organs weren’t working correctly anymore and every intervention was just making her worse,” Dr. Wessler tells PEOPLE. “We told Patty and Joe there was nothing else we could do, the only foreseeable outcome was that Abby was going to die.
“We helped her get home on hospice. But when we started backing off, taking away treatments so she wasn’t on so many meds, she started getting better all on her own.”
Dr. Wessler says Abby’s will to live contributed to her “miraculous” recovery.
“She’s had ups and downs, but if she continues on this path, she is going to make us all look like fools!” he adds. “She’s defied every single odd.”
Almost exactly one year after her family thought they’d lost her, Abby will graduate from the 5th grade. She is now in remission and receives IV steroids twice a day, although her prognosis remains uncertain.
She has good and bad days — but every single minute she’s alive is “precious.”
“She just wants to be a normal kid and hang out with friends and go to school — her zest for life is just amazing,” says Patty. “We watched her die and come back to life.
“Now we’re looking to the future.”