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Four years after it first opened its doors, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital made the medical community hold its collective breath.
Five children—each with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and each in remission from the then-deadly disease—were taken off therapy. The decision was radical and wrought with uncertainty.
Nothing of the like had ever been tried. ALL defeated almost everyone it attacked.
But Pat, 59, is happy that the doctors at St. Jude had the courage to try such an unconventional approach.
Pat was one of the five patients taken off therapy. Discovered to have ALL in 1964 when he was 11 years old, Pat’s chances of surviving seemed bleak. Only four out of 100 children with ALL survived at that time. He came to St. Jude where doctors were pushing boundaries to find a cure for the most common form of childhood cancer. In the face of hopelessness, Pat endured chemotherapy and radiation for more than two years. The chemotherapy was working. The cancer went into remission, and there were no detectable cancer cells in Pat’s body.
“The hospital staff talked about treatment being comparable to being on a racehorse, and you don’t get off a winning horse,” Pat said. But doctors soon realized that at some point their patients needed to step down from that winning horse. Though the drugs were succeeding in destroying the cancer, their potential toxic effects posed other problems for the patients.
The doctors, along with the children's parents, elected to stop therapy after a little more than two years of continuous treatment.
“That was a pretty radical idea at the time,” Pat said, years later. “I’m just so glad they had the nerve to do it. It gave me a lot of freedom.”
After the treatment ended, doctors kept close tabs on Pat and the other patients. “They watched me like a hawk,” he said. He would return to the hospital every two weeks for checkups. Sometime later it became six weeks. “By the time I was in college, I think I was going back about three times a year,” Pat said.
With fewer and fewer visits, Pat found himself with more time to spend on life’s activities. He finished college, became an accountant and a triathlon athlete. He has been married to his wife Marti for the past 29 years and loves to play acoustic guitar.
Pat said he still gets tongue-tied when he thinks about what St. Jude was able to do for him.
“How can you express enough thanks when you were in dire straits and they saved you? It really is the greatest place.”
The road that was paved by the decision of Pat’s doctors to stop his treatment has continued to lead to numerous advances in pediatric cancer treatments. ALL itself has gone from a 4 percent survival rate in 1962 to a 94 percent rate today.
St. Jude scientists continue to develop new treatments for children with cancer.
But to get to survival rates of closer to 100 percent, St. Jude needs your help. Join Danny’s dream today and help St. Jude find the cures for patients of this generation and the next.