The tall silent type would easily describe Aaron Parker. Aaron was a student of the culinary arts, a budding gastronome, with a penchant for cooking and eating. He was soft-spoken, good-natured, easily swayed by his friends to a mischievous prank, and steadfastly loyal to his family, especially his younger brother Kevin. So it was not unusual that Aaron would seek the comfort of home when he started to feel ill. After a few days of fever, sweats and general malaise, Aaron visited a local ER with his dad. Aaron was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia. The news that followed would have paralyzed most young men, but the family mobilized and directed their energies as a squadron headed into battle. This battle would consume the next 15 months.
I remember the frantic call from his mother Necee. She had just landed at BWI Airport that damp cold November eve from a business trip. She could barely get the words out Aaron has leukemia and I honestly did not recognize her voice. The next day we met to gather as much information as possible and to develop a plan. Using cell phones and a list of questions, we called numerous medical facilities that specialized in the field, interviewing specialists, applying for catastrophic insurance coverage, and eventually arranging for an ambulance transfer to Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore. Although I knew in my mind that the diagnosis was firm, it was difficult to envision this tall, handsome, robust young man in a life-threatening crisis.
After several weeks of chemotherapy, Aaron was discharged home just in time for Christmas, 1996. His appetite improved and he ate voraciously gaining the weight back that he had lost. He actually looked quite healthy again. The family had planned a wonderful holiday and a physician friend had donated airline tickets to send the family to Florida for a few days of respite. The best of plans weighed heavily as they all tried to cope and enjoy their time together. January 1997 heralded the first of the bone marrow transplants. He reached a very low point for several weeks. He avoided his favorite cooking programs due to side effects of chemo and his inability to eat. Within several weeks, he rallied back and was sending the nurses to the local carryout for deli sandwiches, pizza, and other treats. Despite his quiet nature, a good conversation about the many ways to cook shrimp and other delicacies of the sea could bring a smile to his face, and it was wonderful to see that smile. He was discharged to ambulatory care and eventually to home in remission. However, in May 1997, just two months after his discharge, he discovered that the leukemia had returned with a vengeance. The news was devastating. Months of therapy had taken its toll on the family financially, emotionally, physically, but not spiritually.
Aaron was told to get his business in order as there was no other treatment plan and he would probably not live another three months. His mother had other ideas. In her visiting with other patients and families, she had developed a sizable network of leukemia friends. Through this network and with the help of Dr. Symer and medical team, Aaron was transferred to Richland Memorial Hospital in Columbia, South Carolina for a partial match procedure. To great, delight his younger brother Kevin was accepted as the donor. What greater gift could a sibling offer his brother! This grueling treatment took Aaron to a most dangerous point medically, but he again rallied like a trooper. This day was heralded as a new birthday. That was August 1997. Aaron proudly left the hospital leukemia free.
The 1997 holidays were cherished moments. I remember talking to him about his dream to go to Jamaica and work at a large resort. He beamed as he spoke of the island delights he would prepare. Those dreams would be short lived. No sooner, had the celebrations ceased, Aaron started to feel ill. The doctors noticed a lung infection. This battle would be his last. He told his family that he was tired and would be okay. On February 1998, at the age of 23, Aaron died of Adult Respiratory Disease and AML at Johns Hopkins with his family at his side.
With family and friends helping them financially, the Parker family wanted to pass on the blessing and help other families. By doing this, they are hoping to extend the circle of caring to others.