My younger sister often complained of bruises without reason and a descended abdomen. My mom took her to a doctor to get it checked out. That same day, I was a freshmen at Deerfield High School, I was called to the office where the admin said my mom was on the phone. She was very upset, trying to keep her composure, and broke the news to me that my sister has leukemia. She told me I could go home for the day. I don’t remember taking anything with me. I do remember walking home, upset, not knowing exactly what to think except that my sister faced possible death.
Putting aside many details, months later we found out we were a perfect match for a bone marrow transplant, and my sister has led a good life ever since. That was 25 years ago.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago. My sister had been contacted by someone, not sure of the exact details, who was associated with the Univ Wisconsin Children’s Hospital. They wanted to do a PR piece about her surviving cancer. It would include the nurse and doctor she had during the trying time in her life. Heather was always good to include me on these events. I guess you could say that she went through the battle, I just supplied her with the juice to survive. Whether I’d be included in the piece wasn’t a concern. I think we thought it was going to be a brother and sister piece, but it didn’t end up that way. No big deal. I was just blessed by the most touching story told to me by the doctor she had 25 years ago.
Dr Paul Sondel and nurse Mary Kay showed up to the little meeting. Our spouses also attended. Dr Sondel and I were catching up on things and he proceeded to tell me the following story.
He was wearing a tie, a bit worn and wrinkled and he brought it to my attention. He said, “I’m not sure you are aware of this, but your mother gave me this tie as a gift. She had gone on a trip to India,” he flipped it over and the label indicated it was made in India, “and she bought it to give to her father but he passed away. I couldn’t accept but she insisted on it.” At this point I thought he wore it just for this occasion, especially because of it’s condition. I was wrong. He went on, “I wear it on special occasions. Some good. Some not so good.” At this point he changed gears a bit – words may not be exact, but this is the gist of it all. “Back when I was a student I was trying to determine what course of study I wanted to pursue. I was later influenced by a professor/researcher that would become my mentor in the field of genetics and oncology. He was the person that came up with the procedure that was used with you and your sister. He recently passed away and I was asked to give the eulogy at his funeral out east. I wore this tie.” Now I want to say that he shares the story of the tie, or the symbolism it provides to him, but I don’t recall whether he shares that with others. I’m sure it has meaning to him. I was completely touched and I never realized all the years of work, and very intelligent people, that are behind the cures and treatments that allow people like my sister to live a long, fulfilling, life.
That night the story was on the local news station. My bit was not aired, they went with the ‘nurse and her first cancer patient reunite after 25 years’ angle.
I never asked doc Sondel the name of his mentor. I went to find out myself. Without certain confirmation I believe the distinguished gentlemen he was referring to was Dr Fritz Heinz Bach. I don’t recall how exactly I found the obituary on Dr Bach, but the date of his passing, his research background and his locations where he did research lead me to believe this is the person that Dr Sondel was referring to.
Many patients, and relatives of those patients, appreciate the work of their doctors. I am thankful that Dr Sondel and Mary Kay, along with a slew of other caring folks to include her nurse practitioner-Sharon Frierdich, took care of my little sister, but I also have to thank Dr Fritz Heinz Bach for his contributions to the field of medicine. Even Dr. Bach and Sondel may say there are plenty of others that contribute to the quest to rid bad things, like childhood cancer, from the world. It takes a huge effort with lots of people over lots of time. So to everyone that helps a child overcome a terminal illness, one they don’t deserve, thank you. Thank you very much.