Patient Spotlight: Jason

I have the privilege of knowing Jason Lechette, having met him and his parents when he was playing freshman high school football. It’s hard to describe how thrilled he was to be back out on the football field in his senior year after a life-threatening illness. Jason and his family have come full circle from love of the game to total life upheaval back to love of the game. We are thankful to his doctors and his bone marrow donor, who Jason had the pleasure of meeting in September. Here's their story:
 
In 2011, Jason Lechette of Lincoln University, Pa., was being followed by doctors at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Del., for a sports-related concussion. He was cleared to return to the football field in October but he wasn’t quite himself, feeling tired and running fevers. His family’s worst fear at the time was that his symptoms were lingering side effects of the concussion. But the diagnosis they eventually got was far more serious. Jason had severe aplastic anemia, a life-threatening blood disorder.

Aplastic anemia is a relatively rare condition that develops from a shortage of one or more types of blood cells. It can progress slowly or come on suddenly. In Jason’s case, by the time the diagnosis was made in November, it became clear to his doctors that the best course of treatment was a bone marrow transplant. Disappointingly, none of Jason’s close family members was a suitable match. A search of the National Marrow Donor registry yielded a few possibilities for Jason, one of which stood out in particular. The candidate who was the best match agreed to donate marrow and in February 2012 Jason underwent his transplant at duPont Hospital for Children, under the direction of Emi Caywood, MD.

During the recovery phase, Jason’s robust 220-pound frame dwindled to 140 pounds. Eating was perhaps his biggest challenge. Yet his parents Rick and Kathy Lechette say Jason’s recuperation went relatively smoothly, that he responded well to treatment, and that his positive attitude helped him overcome a devastating illness. Now 17, Jason is back in school and again suiting up for football. He pays volunteer visits to the hospital to counsel other young patients who are undergoing treatment for cancer and blood disorders. His goal is to help them by answering their questions, offering his perspective, and just boosting their spirits.

A year after his transplant, Jason’s family had the opportunity to express an interest in finding out who donated their life-saving bone marrow to Jason. Donors and recipients who wish to be identified work through the National Marrow Donor program to connect with one another.  In September 2013, Jason was able to meet his donor, Philip Gosnell, a Yale undergraduate from Boston. His father, Tucker Gosnell, died of a rare gastrointestinal cancer in 2002 when Philip was just 9 years old.  Philip joined the donor registry in hopes of helping others battle disease.  He didn’t hesitate when the call came that he was a near-perfect match for someone.

Jason, Philip and their families met at a Red Sox game at Boston’s Fenway Park on a special donor recognition day. There were many hugs, many tears, much conversation and vows to stay in touch. Kathy Lechette says it was the most special day of her life, bar none (with apologies to her husband Rick), including her wedding day. She describes Philip as kind, quiet and humble. In a Boston hotel room after the game, Jason checked his Facebook account. Philip had sent him a friend request. 

To learn more about registering to be a bone marrow donor, visit bethematch.org.

Jason (right) with Philip (left), his bone marrow donor

Jason (right) with Philip (left), his bone marrow donor

Patient Spotlight: Joey

Joey Farrell, 18, of Wilmington, DE, went through treatment for his brain tumor with a brave face, strong faith and sense of humor. He has a wonderful, supportive family who saw him through his ordeal and stood with him every step of the way. His school stood behind him, too (see the picture below). If you met Joey, you’d understand why. He’s the kind of kid you want to cheer on – he just puts a smile on your face. His positive attitude was most certainly a factor in his successful treatment.

This is what Joey had to say about his courageous cancer journey: 

Joey Farrell is front and center in the black hoodie. His fellow students at St. Elizabeth's are wearing "Fighting for Farrell" T-shirts.  

Joey Farrell is front and center in the black hoodie. His fellow students at St. Elizabeth's are wearing "Fighting for Farrell" T-shirts.

 

"When I found out I had a brain tumor (medulloblastoma) in January 2012, I was scared to death. I wondered, 'Why did this happen to me?' But I didn’t waste a lot of time dwelling on that or blaming God. I just wanted to get better. I had surgery, radiation and then nine rounds of chemotherapy. Not to mention lots of scans and tests. I’ve been off treatment since March 2013 and I feel good. During treatment, my parents and my sister Lauren helped me hold it together. Whatever I needed, they were there for me. Lauren was the one to always reassure me. She said that even on the cloudiest day, the sun is shining somewhere and it’s just a matter of time before I see it again. I really held onto that. I got amazing support from everyone at duPont Hospital for Children. I can’t single anyone out they were all great. They were honest with me, encouraged me, made me laugh, and took good care of me from start to finish. I can’t say enough about my school, St. Elizabeth’s. They rallied around us teachers, classmates and parents. They helped us stay positive and keep the faith, held fundraisers, and dedicated the yearbook to me. When I was asked to speak at commencement, I used Lauren’s analogy of clouds and sun as the theme of my speech. It had a lot of meaning for me and it’s how I see things now. My plan was to go into the Marines right after high school graduation. Now I need to wait, so I’m starting mechanical training to get prepared. I still have the same goals, just postponed for a while. I hope that what I’ve gone through can help other people, and I expect to live a happy and meaningful life. I’m writing this and it hasn’t stopped raining all day. But I know that the sun is out there just a matter of time."

Patient Spotlight: Matt

Matt P. of West Chester, PA, just turned 20 and started his sophomore year as a physics and engineering major at Shippensburg University. He has a bright future ahead of him. But just two years ago, Matt was fighting for his future after findings on a routine physical exam led to a diagnosis of Stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. His mother, Doreen, said Matt “powered through” chemotherapy and a dozen spinal taps, and was able to graduate high school on time.

During his senior year, although he was unable to continue wrestling, he always showed up to support the team. Now, he has an interest in helping others, particularly teenage boys, diagnosed with cancer at Nemours Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders. He has offered to make himself available in person or by Skype to guys who just need to talk. “He wants to help them get through it, answer questions if he can, and just listen,” said Doreen.

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Recently, Matt told his mom he forgot something when he left for school that he wanted her to send along – his “bravery beads.” For every treatment, test and procedure, patients at the hospital earn beads that are slid on a string. Matt’s got quite a long length of courage, and he wants to keep it with him to remind himself of what he went through and the power of coming out strong on the other side.