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Family Ties: How One Family Beat Leukemia

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Thomas Judge of Levittown has always been grateful to be part of a large, close-knit family — he is one of a dozen children. But he could never have predicted that one of his siblings would donate bone marrow for a life-saving procedure after he was diagnosed with full-blown leukemia. Last June, after visiting a hospital for abdominal pain, the 53-year-old husband and father of three received some worrying test results: His white blood cell count was low. Following a bone marrow biopsy, he was referred to oncologist Jonathan Kolitz, MD, at the Monter Cancer Center in Lake Success.

Typical treatment options for adult leukemia are chemotherapy and bone marrow/stem cell transplantation, but finding a donor involves matching tissue types with the patient. Ideal donors are siblings who have certain genes identical to the patient’s, but the chance of a match is just one in four. Thankfully, Mr. Judge’s 11 siblings were willing to be tested for compatibility.

His sister, Karen Manolis, RN, a case manager at North Shore University Hospital (NSUH), was a perfect match. “I grew up taking care of many siblings,” said Ms. Manolis. “I could feel my mother telling me this was the time to be there. I feel so honored to have given him help that contributed to saving his life.”

Before the transplant, Mr. Judge underwent four rounds of chemotherapy and many months in the hospital. “Through it all, he barely complained,” said Laura Judge, Mr. Judge’s wife and a secretary also employed at NSUH. No one lost hope — friends held fund-raisers to contribute toward his care, and his kids, brothers and sisters visited from as far as Texas, and they all kept their faith. Between three family members who work at the hospital, not a day passed without a visit. “When they told us he was in remission, it took a while to sink in,” said Ms. Judge. “It was a real miracle.”

Ruthee-Lu Bayer, MD, chief of bone marrow/stem cell transplantation at the Don Monti Division of Hematology/Oncology at NSUH, performed Mr. Judge’s procedure. On January 26, Mr. Judge returned home for the remainder of his recovery..

“I kept thinking, ‘Wow, my doctors are good,’” said Mr. Judge. “Plus the positive attitudes of the staff really got us through each day. When I felt sick, Dr. Bayer acted like my mom used to: She sat down next to me, rubbed my back and told me that it would be all right.” He is deeply grateful for the personalized, compassionate and skilled care he and his family received.

“The best care was right here in our backyard,” added Ms. Manolis. “My brother needed all of us in this long process, and it just wouldn’t have been the same anywhere else.”

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