Soon after moving from Connecticut to North Dallas in 2001, Jeri was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder when we were having our first annual checkup in our new home…welcome to Texas! Her platelet production was way out of whack…over 1 1/2 million of these guys instead of the normal 100-400K most of us have floating around in us. The oncologist called it Essential Thrombosis - a very rare blood disorder that they don’t know what causes it and there is no cure, but a med that would keep her platelets under control. Our next 15 years as Texans had Jeri seeing Dr. Trillo every 6 months and receiving his Thumbs Up! She was healthy and active in multiple sports, along with leading a children’s ministry at a growing church, and helping John create and lead a non-profit with a wonderful team of folks in our surrounding towns.
A few years back (2015-16), Jeri started having pain in her abdomen area. Tests showed that the ET had caused her bone marrow to start scaring and her stem cells had left and migrated thru her blood to her spleen. The enlarged spleen was now the blood production organ as well as collecting the abnormal cells now being produced and rejected in her system. Essential Thrombosis had become Myelofibrosis - another very rare condition. Dr. T kept an eye on this progressing disorder and when the enlarging spleen was not responding to another med, he informed us this past winter, it was time to visit MDAnderson in Houston. They had remedies and trials that other oncologists like him would not see for years. Jeri continued to otherwise be in very good health; she insisted on beating me down black diamond slopes at Steamboat Springs this past winter again!
To celebrate Valentines Day, we visited MDA for the first time. Expecting to hear about other meds or trials available to care for her blood disorder, we heard the words leukemia and cancer for the first time. Through many tests, it was determined that meds and other treatments were not going to help…it was time for a stem cell transplant. This requires a donor of healthy stem cells. Best bet are siblings, but that didn’t pan out. Next was children that would only be a 50% match due to fathers contribution to their DNA. Then there was the hope for an unrelated donor discoverable through be the match, some 29 million folks world wide. In April we came back to MDA and Dr Popat came in and announced there was a match! A 24 year old female from outside the US.
We had a month to get our plans in order before moving into our RV in Houston for 4 months. We were ready and dealt with this new plan as we had the past 17+ years. We trusted God with the details (He was pretty good at showing us that miracles were one of His best features!) Our donor had to remain anonymous for 2 years; all we knew was her gender, age, and blood type (A+) so we nicknamed her AP. AP was our only match, 1 in over 29 million and showed up in the past 30 days. God provided the miracle we needed.
Our first goal in Houston - get healthy. But we also felt God was sending us to a new neighborhood as well. Actually, we found He sent us to three.
First: our RV park about 5 miles from MDA. As we were setting up our rig the afternoon we arrived, Michelle was walking by and invited us to a gathering of other folks that were living in this park and dealing with cancer issues at MDA. We had to pass that evening, but rarely missed the Fire Pit Gang (as we called it) on Tuesday and Thursday evenings for an hour or 2 (or more!). We got to know Kevin and Michelle well - and Carla and Jamie, Lisa and Chris, Bob and Pat, Otis and Susan, Georgia and Gary - and many others. Stories shared, tears shed, prayers prayed, love grown! Relationships that cannot be imagined. Some of these folks have died in recent weeks, some sent home in remission, others needing to stay for ongoing treatments.
Second: our long days at MDA Clinic for testing and waiting for next appointments; a lot of waiting/MDA time! We met folks from around the Houston area and around the world. Some became friends that we have stayed up with and others were one-time conversations that led to immediate caring for one another.
Third: one month in the MDA Hospital for chemo, followed by the stem cell transplant, followed by recovering strength enough to return to the RV for 2 more months of clinic visits. During that month, Jeri and I would walk the halls (not an option!) 5 Laps = 1 mile. The docs and nurses wanted you to be out of your bed and room for a walk several times a day. Jeri clocked 3 - 5 miles most days. During those times, we met Solomon and his mother from Mexico City, he would not get out of bed and she asked us to pray for him. He enjoyed our visits, but did not push himself much. We also met Blake from Little Rock, another young man who got his transplant a couple weeks after Jeri. There were many others.
Today, we are back in Houston for Jeri’s 8-week check-up since being released to go home to Prosper TX back in September. Her prognosis was very good - always fun to have Dr P smiling the entire time he is meeting with us. Earlier today, while waiting (again!) we ran into Solomon and his fiancé Jackie! He was there for his weekly checkup. He looked GREAT! What a God-appointment!! MDA is a Big Place! His mom just text me this evening from Mexico City! We told him that our friend Blake had been back in the hospital since Labor Day dealing with an infection that affects the success of his transplant. We were going to see Blake later - they would too. Blake and his dad were in the room. Blake is very weak, but finally responding to treatment and beginning to eat solid foods. As we were leaving, we saw Solomon and Jackie again. We were to celebrate Michelle’s birthday tomorrow with a surprise lunch, but Kevin was readmitted this evening due to infection complications.
We thought we were sent to Houston for treatment and hopeful recovered health. But we were sent here for so much more. This place is filled with miracles and God appointments. He is so present here. We are so blessed to have had this experience. The friends we have met are lifetime friends, ones we will know for eternity. Please join us in praying for them…and for the hundreds of others we haven't met yet.