Teenage son helps his father fight leukemia by being his bone marrow donor

A lasting gift

When a Silver Spring dad was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia, his teenage son was his best hope for survival

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The months following the transplant were not all smooth for Paul, who still needed to wear a mask when he left the house for medical appointments, which he jokes were the extent of his social life. By the end of January 2018—three months after the transplant—his energy was waning again, and in February he developed a searing pain in the back of his leg. That turned out to be from an E. coli infection that was related to the transplant, requiring three weeks in the hospital for treatment.

Paul finally began feeling like himself again by the middle of the year. He ate at one of his favorite restaurants, Parkway Deli in Silver Spring. He traveled to Cooperstown, New York, to watch Pierce play in a baseball tournament. In July, he started doing some work from home, and in December he returned full time.

He played ball with Stew.

“I was a bit emotional as the simple act of playing catch…was such a joy,” Paul says.

On Sept. 22, 2019, he crossed a critical benchmark—two years with clean biopsies. The roughly weeklong waits for test results don’t scare him much anymore. For a reason he doesn’t fully understand, he never thought he was going to die. The only medical treatment he receives now is a monthly phlebotomy to remove excess iron from his blood, which he’ll need for the rest of his life.
“The fact that he was able to recover from the heart issue, and that he was then able to go on and get more therapy for his leukemia in the form of his bone marrow transplant, is rather miraculous to me,” Webster says.

At his lowest moments, his body ravaged by disease, Paul leaned on his background in mental health. “I had some strategies in my thinking process to stay in the moment, so to speak,” he says. “It’s hard not to get too wrapped up in all of the possible scenarios and outcomes. Living the one-day, one-hour-at-a-time approach was a way to stay calm when I was uncomfortable or downright scared or in pain.”

He also turned to music for solace. “One positive about all of this is pretty decent, above average songs were coming out of me while I was in the hospital,” he says. “That really kept me going. It was as easy as it’s ever been.”

He recorded one, called “Gratitude,” in his basement studio. He says it’s a tribute to everyone who stood by him through his darkest days.

I wanna write a song for you,
and call it Gratitude,
’cause there’s nothing in this world you know I wouldn’t do for you…

Paul sent a digital copy to friends and performed it for family members when they visited over Christmas in 2017. They couldn’t have been happier to hear him play it live.

Mike Unger is a writer and editor who grew up in Montgomery County and lives in Baltimore.

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