A lot of people at this point have heard about my dad's passing. Our family is fortunate to be blessed with hundreds of amazing friends and acquaintances who have sent kind thoughts, and are all concerned and wondering about what happened. Here's the full story.
For Father's Day, we signed Dad up for Rock Camp For Dads. You get paired up with other rockin' dads and then play a concert at the end of four weeks of practice sessions. Dad's big show with "Jill and the Jacks" was to be the evening of Saturday, August 6. However, he never made it there.
On Saturday night, I got a call from Mom that Dad was in the hospital. Earlier in the day he had suddenly developed a lot of leg pain and shortness of breath, and needed to take an ambulance to the emergency room. They weren't sure exactly what was going on, but based on completely out of whack blood numbers, the doctors suspected it might be leukemia. I was on the first plane to Minneapolis the next morning.
We got to the hospital in Rochester on Sunday afternoon, and Dad was lucid and alert, in high spirits, and joking around like he always does. They'd done a round of plasmapheresis which had brought his white blood cell count down from 150K to 60K (normal is 4.5 - 10K). Things were looking up.
Doctors by now were convinced we were dealing with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), but a bone marrow biopsy needed to be performed to figure out what type.
The bone marrow biopsy happened Monday morning. The type that we were all crossing our fingers for is called Acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL) or "M3". This type of AML has around an 80% survival rate, because they can use a particular type of treatment for this kind called ATRA which takes the immature white blood cells and matures them so it can actually turn the disease in on itself by giving the body more power to fight.
Dad was also looking healthy enough to be transferred from the ICU to the normal cancer floor, so we were in high hopes.
Tuesday morning we got confirmation that the AML Dad was diagnosed with was the APL type! YAY! We were all totally stoked. The doctors gave us a chemo regimen for the next 4 weeks, and started him on his first dose that evening. We gathered supplies that afternoon for a long hospital stay, and spread the great news to family and friends.
That evening we took Mom home for her first real meal and sleep since everything started. We got home about 9pm. At 10pm, we received a call that Dad was being transferred back into the ICU due to labored breathing, though we were told that this might happen throughout the chemo process.
Mom and I arrived back at the hospital by about 11pm and went in to see him. He was acting confused; he was re-asking the same question seconds after it was answered, and his speech was slurred. That's when Mom noticed that nothing on his left side was moving.
We called for the nurse, who called in the neurology team, and took Dad down for a CT scan. Dad was still alert and responsive. He knew where he was, he knew what day it was, and when Mom asked who she was, he answered, "My wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, wife."
The CT scan revealed what we already knew to be true: Dad had a stroke in the right hemisphere of his brain. We were brought to a small room with members from the neurology team who said Dad had lapsed into a coma, and his best prognosis was hemiplegia, where he'd be paralyzed along the left side of his body for the rest of his life. They asked us how he would want us to proceed. We told him he would absolutely want everything possible done: when he had an accident resulting in the loss of his thumb and tip of his ring finger on his left hand, for example, he took it right in stride ("Give me three and a half!").
It was a tricky situation, though. Because of the thinness of his blood caused by the cancer, they couldn't do things they'd normally do in this situation, such as remove part of the skull to give the brain room to swell. And the stroke was embedded deep inside his brain; not on the surface area where something less invasive like a drain might've worked. They promised to do what they could, but they told us to call family immediately.
So began a series of sobbing, heart-wrenching phone calls in the middle of the night, to people who just earlier in the day were told about Dad's great prognosis and how lucky we were. Mom and Dad's entire Minnesota-based family arrived throughout the night, and Marci got on the first plane Wednesday morning to Minneapolis.
Around 2am we were all sat down together again by a team of doctors. They explained that Dad's condition had deteriorated rapidly since the last time we spoke. While initially, we were looking at a small amount of blood collected deep in the right lobe, this had since spread dramatically, and was now even collecting in his brain stem. They declared him clinically brain dead. He had a ventilator to breathe for him, but he was no longer with us.
Just a week prior he was at a Beach Boys concert in Albert Lea, rocking out. Now, he was gone.
We kept him on life support for another 12 hours or so, in order to allow time for all of his family to come. We sent him off with the entire family crowded around his bed, sharing stories about him. His sense of humor, his accomplishments, and the difference he made in our lives.
Dad passed away peacefully at 4:06 pm on Wednesday, August 10, surrounded by those who loved him.
I wanted to say thank you SO much to everyone who sent such incredibly supportive and kind e-mails, Twitter/Facebook messages, phone calls, cards, and prayers/thoughts. We've read and heard every single one of them, and they've all helped our family to get us through this time. We feel tremendously blessed to be surrounded by such amazing people. Thank you.
We also created a chip-in because a number of our friends from far away who have asked for a way to contribute financially. If you have the means, any money raised would go to pay for things like funeral expenses and medical expenses (if any; we're pretty well covered there, thankfully), and donation to one of Dad's preferred charities: Mayo Clinic Poverello Fund, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, or the Boys and Girls Club in Rochester.
If you knew Dad, you can also leave an online condolence. If you didn't have the pleasure to know him, the list of condolences includes dozens of wonderful posts from people describing the amazing person he was. There's also a Facebook page created by former students of his.
Thank you once again, all of you, for your incredible emotional support. Keep on rockin' on the other side, Dad.