When Jude was just 5 years old, his parents, Keith and Boots, noticed that he started to develop a lot of bruises on his legs and was getting sick more than they thought was normal. They brought it up to his pediatrician who just attributed it to, “boys always having bruises,” and told them there was nothing to worry about. It wasn’t until shortly thereafter when Jude was taken to the Emergency Room at Children’s Medical Center Plano with a 105-degree fever and red spots on his face that his family was given news no parents wants to hear: Jude had leukemia.
Jude’s first battle begins
He was immediately transported to Children’s Medical Center Dallas by ambulance and admitted to the Pauline Allen Gill Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders, where he spent the next two weeks before returning home to continue his outpatient chemotherapy treatment.
“After a month of outpatient treatment, they told us he wasn’t responding,” says his mom Boots. “We waited another month, but his leukemia spread tenfold.”
Jude was readmitted to the hospital, where he began an intense chemotherapy regime aimed at killing all of his cancer cells.
“It was so difficult because we weren’t sure if his leukemia would ever go away,” says Boots.
Doctors soon determined that Jude would need a bone marrow transplant. Fortunately, his older brother was a perfect match.
Jude suffered from an uncommon, but severe, liver issue that kept him in the ICU temporarily while he recovered before finally returning home full of hope and plans to put cancer behind him. He did well over the next five years, making regular visits to Children’s Health℠ to monitor his progress and focusing on school, friends and just being a young child.
An old enemy returns
It wasn’t until 2015, five years after his bone marrow transplant and, coincidentally, the same day that a special about Jude’s “life after cancer” aired on a local radio station, that Jude and his family found themselves back at Children’s Medical Center Plano with a stomach ache and an elevated white blood cell count.
“I already had a feeling something wasn’t right,” says Boots.
Jude and his father were once again transported by ambulance to Dallas, where the family learned his cancer had returned.
“Everyone was shocked, including our doctors,” Boots says.
Jude began treatment and preparing for a second bone marrow transplant when doctors informed the family that his brother would not be a candidate to donate again and they’d need to look elsewhere for a donor.
A stranger becomes a hero
The family was directed to the Be the Match registry, the largest and most diverse marrow registry in the world.
“We leveraged a lot of media awareness to try to find a match,” says Boots. “Even Jude’s school organized a bone marrow registry drive.”
Still, it wasn’t until months later that Jude and his family learned that the registry had identified four individuals who had the potential to be a match for a transplant. After further tests, just one anonymous donor, a woman from Germany, was chosen as Jude’s donor.
The transplant went smoothly, and he avoided the liver complications he experienced the first time around. His leukemia went into remission, where it remains nearly three years later.
A young man stands, victorious
Today, Jude is in seventh grade and the quarterback on the football team. He’s steadily gaining his strength back through regular workouts – something he couldn’t do during treatment – and hopes to lead his team back to the championship, and bring home the trophy, next year.
Jude is still on medication to suppress his immune system due to higher than normal liver enzyme counts, but is also anxiously awaiting the day he is finished with treatment so he can fly to Germany to hopefully meet his donor and thank her in person.
Boots says she hopes others will consider registering as a bone marrow donor in the Be the Match registry, noting that, “It’s not as scary as it sounds, and any inconvenience it might be to you is greatly outweighed by the potential to save someone’s life.”
For many patients with leukemia, lymphoma and other life-threatening diseases, finding a marrow donor is their best chance for a cure. Register to see if you are the match that can save a life.
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