Friday, August 31, 2012

York Family’s Inspirational Story Becomes National News

Chris, Lauren, and Jason Durkin (photo courtesy Durkin family and ABC News)
By Pat Sommers
Staff Columnist

Sharon and Michael Durkin felt as if they were living a bad dream in 2006 when son Jason, then 18, was diagnosed with a rare disorder that affects the blood and bone marrow.
That bad dream became a recurring nightmare for the York parents.
Doctors subsequently discovered that their younger son, Chris, was suffering from the same condition, myelodysplastic syndromes, or MDS. He was 15.
Then, in 2009, daughter Lauren, now a senior at York High School, received the same diagnosis.
The story of the York family’s courage in coping with the potentially life-threatening illness was spotlighted this week on ABC’s “Good Morning America” television program. Robin Roberts, an anchor for the popular morning show who successfully battled breast cancer five years ago, announced recently that she has MDS. The disorder, she said, was triggered by her cancer treatment.
In MDS, the blood marrow does not make enough normal blood cells for the body. Red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets may all be affected, and the course of the disease is different for each of the 10,000 to 15,000 Americans who are diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndromes annually.
Though MDS can affect people of any age, at least 80 percent of all cases occur in people over 60, making the case of the Durkin siblings more startling. The disorder is more common in men than women.
In reporting on Roberts’ diagnosis and the upcoming bone marrow transplant that will be part of her treatment for MDS, ABC noted the extreme rarity of the genetic form of the disorder for which Jason, Chris, and Lauren were treated.
According to Dr. Inga Hofmann of Dana-Farber/Children’s Hospital Cancer Center, the Boston facility where the Durkin children received treatment, only about 4 in 1 million children in the U.S. are diagnosed with MDS. Having more than one child in a family diagnosed with the disorder is exceedingly rare, she said.
Jason was diagnosed after his ice hockey coach noticed the boy seemed to be lagging in tryouts. ”Something just didn’t seem right,” Sharon Durkin told ABC. A trip to the family doctor and subsequent blood tests led to the discovery of MDS.
As doctors searched for a matching donor for an urgently needed bone marrow transplant for Jason, they tested his brother. Chris was a perfect donor match, but the tests indicated he also had MDS.
Both young men received successful bone marrow transplants in 2007and, as part of the treatment regimen, both were quarantined for a full year to protect their fragile immune systems from infection. Similarly, Roberts is expected to take a leave of several months from her post on the morning show.
Treatment immediately prior to the bone marrow transplants essentially strips the body of all its immunity, Michael Durkin explained. The donor bone marrow is then introduced into the body where it starts to strengthen. “It’s sort of like getting a whole new immune system,” he told The Weekly Sentinel.
Lauren Durkin, whose tests for MDS were negative during the two years of her brothers’ treatment and recovery, received a positive result in 2009. When efforts to find a transplant donor match came up empty, she received a blood cord transplant of stem cells. A high fever and infection at one point severely threatened the teen’s life, but she fought her way through and is ready to resume classes at York High, where she is a member of the varsity hockey team.
Durkin said there is really no way to explain how the family handled the fear and anguish they felt during the past six years. “We just took it one day at a time,” he said. “That’s all you can do.”
The three children were “very strong” through the entire ordeal, their father added.
Comforting to the Durkin family was the response of friends, neighbors and total strangers.
“The community of York was absolutely fabulous,” Durkin said, noting that drives to register area residents as potential bone marrow donors for the Durkin children and others in need attracted about 800 people.
Both Sharon and Michael Durkin are community minded. They have both been active in sports organizations for children, serving in administrative capacities and assisting in efforts to coach area teams.
Their hard work was rewarded in the many events hosted on their behalf during the family’s time of crisis. “Community members were tremendous in their response,” Michael Durkin reiterated.
All three Durkin children are “now stable,” according to their father. Jason, approaching his 24th birthday, is an honor graduate of the University of Maine and has launched a career. Chris, 21, is a college sophomore. Lauren, ready to begin her final year at York High, is eying a career as a pediatric oncology nurse.
They are all healthy, enthusiastic, and optimistic.
And they shared that exuberance this week with ABC’s Roberts, each offering a personal message of encouragement and good wishes as she begins her own fight with MDS.