As parents to young children, we relish the opportunities to control our children’s environment. No violent television shows, no play dates with kids who bite and push, only nutretous foods being offered, and the list goes on and on. Parents only want the best for their children and delight in making this happen.
When you child is diagnosed with cancer, you still insist on the best. The best hospital, best oncologist, best treatment plans. But imagine how a parent feels when told that your child’s only chance for a cure is a bone marrow transplant. And if that is not enough to digest, you then find out that no one in your family is a match. Suddenly your child’s future is dependent on a complete stranger, that is, if a matched unrelated donor can even be found. You still want the best for your child but you have no control over what the future will bring.
This is the situation we found ourselves in when our son Andrew’s leukemia kept returning. That is when we learned about the National Bone Marrow Registry and through this venue our son’s awesome donor, Adam Letizia, was found. He was 34 years old, lived in another state, and was a 6 out of 6 match. That is all we were told by our medical team. We waited anxiously to see if this stranger would be willing to go through a battery of physical testing, hopefully pass, and then check into his local hospital and have a portion of his bone marrow extracted and flown to St. Louis. Not a small request for someone you don’t even know!
What a blessing Adam is to our family! He answered this calling and graciously donated his bone marrow to save Andrew. How excited we were to find a person so generous and caring. It was October 1, 2002, when Andrew received the first of Adam’s bone marrow. It was the feast day of St. Therese but since the actual BMT infused from 11:30 pm until after midnight, it carried over to the feast day of Guardian Angels. Would it be a sign that all would work out? God had definitely sent Andrew a special guardian angel in Adam.
Alas, Andrew would experience 2 more relapses in the year after his BMT. Adam would be our hero and again send more bone marrow. This time it was divided into small quantities and frozen. A dose, know as a DLI (donor luekecyte infusion) would be administered every 60 days over a period of a year. This would keep constant donor cells to fight off any lingering leukemia cells. And it worked!
Because of Adam’s kindness and generosity, Andrew lived 7 years longer than he would have. It was through Adam’s selfless acts that Andrew actually beat his leukemia and was cancer free for over 5 years–the length of time required to be “medically cured”. We were elated. Andrew got to live what most people would refer to “as a normal life.” School, sports, Cub Scouts, play dates and friends.
The Bone Marrow Registry keeps the donor anonymous for a period of 18 months back then. We were able to send some letters to Adam through the staff at Children’s hospital. I remember when the 18 months had passed, we filled out the release forms, hoping to finally have a name and face to put with our donor. I was so disappointed when the representative said I may never hear from the donor for it is much more common for the donor and recipient to stay annonomyous. I cannot remember how many months later it was, but one night I came home with the kids and noticed we had one message. I had to replay it a second time before it I fully realized it was our donor calling us to check on Andrew. Adam, our hero, revealed his identity and a friendship fastly formed.
Adam and his wife Carol will always be a special part of our family. What an inspiration they are to those around them! They have 3 beautiful children and one fantastic grandson. Each day we thank God for bringing Adam into our lives.