In my tradition we are told that whosoever saves even one life it is as if they have saved an entire world, thus our belief that each life is singularly important and has potential for the ages.
I have never written a column like this before but I am moved to do so in the belief that all human life is precious and it is incumbent upon us all to do what we can to defend and protect life.
Recently I met Todd and Resa Render. They have four children. Their middle child Courtney is facing a life threatening illness. Just over two years ago, Courtney was diagnosed with a particularly aggressive form of Hodgkin's Lymphoma. It turned Courtney's world upside down. Instead of dreaming of the future, planning for graduation, thoughts of traveling the world, Courtney and her family are focused on keeping her alive; saving her life.
As it happens my children know Courtney. They went to school with her. And this makes it even more personal. When I heard of Courtney's struggle for life I couldn't help but react as a parent. But for life's graces Courtney could be my child, your child.
Courtney's story is one of struggle and hope. While she was attending McGill University in 2009 she fell ill and simply couldn't shake it. Doctors finally diagnosed Courtney with Hodgkin's Lymphoma. Courtney's life came tumbling down around her.
She had to leave her studies, her dream of becoming a teacher put on hold and return to Toronto. Six months of harsh chemotherapy followed. Anyone who has had to support a loved one going through chemo knows that while it can mean remission it also means days and nights of nausea and weakness. Loss of hair can make you feel hardly human when you also have to cope with the debilitating side effects.
With great fortitude, the kind of courage demonstrated by many who have no other choice, Courtney finished her lengthy round of treatment. Sadly it wasn't enough. Courtney relapsed. She realized that she wasn't going to be able to return to school and required a stronger regimen of chemotherapy, followed by more radiation and ending up with a stem cell transplant all within an eight month period.
Now there was hope some light on the horizon. Slowly Courtney's body began to renew itself. She regained her strength only to find the rug once again pulled out from under her. Her stem cell replacement and course of therapy was simply no longer working. Darkness and hopelessness once again descended.
And yet hope returned once again with a trial drug treatment out of Detroit. This was followed by another regimen of chemotherapy known as Bendamustine, from a private clinic in Toronto. But in the end it's just not enough.
Miraculously though a potential treatment that very well could save Courtney's life was discovered at the famous Johns Hopkins hospital in the United States.
Known as an Allogeneic stem-cell transplant, it differs from an an autologous stem cell transplant which uses the patient's own blood cells. In this procedure the donor is usually a family member, mother, brother or sister and prior to the transplant another very serious high dose chemotherapy and radiation is undertaken for two days. Like a blood transfusion the cells are injected into the body where the cells travel through the bloodstream journeying to the bone marrow where they develop into active white and red blood cells and platelets to help fight the lymphoma.
This is no easy task. The risk of infection afterwards is always present and the potential for more blood transfusions to ward off infection a very real possibility. Courtney will have to stay in Baltimore close to Johns Hopkins to be constantly monitored so that if complications arise the Doctors are prepared to deal with it quickly. This procedure may very well save Courtney's life.
The cost however is astronomical, $600,000. Hundreds of people have rallied behind the Render family who are doing their best to raise the money. There are benefits planned in Toronto and Montreal, close to $5,000 was raised this weekend at the "Walk for Israel".
There is only a small window of opportunity to undertake the transplant.
As Courtney explains "...this is what will save my life, and this is what I need to go on and live my life and I'm only 22, I have so much life to live..."
To hear Courtney tell her own story please click here.
And tonight when you see your own children give them an extra hug for Courtney.