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Published on March 14, 2017

VanLaecken family

Mother of Five Feels Many Blessings in Face of Leukemia Diagnosis

The delicate balance of life can be up-turned in mere moments. That’s something Kristin VanLaecken of Watertown, S.D. knows all too well.

This January, the 34-year-old mother of five was applying moisturizer to her neck and her glands were tender and quite swollen. Her husband, Rob, noticed the swelling, too. He told her to get it checked out.

She did just that, and was surprised when her doctor called her back, not his nurse. He recommended she come in right away. Her white blood cell count was frighteningly elevated.

“We were in Watertown and our doctor suggested we go to Sioux Falls, and we were on the road about 6:30 p.m.,” Kristin said. “Kelly called my husband while we were driving down. That really impressed us. He got on it right away.”

The “Kelly” she mentioned is Kelly McCaul, MD, Avera Medical Group Hematology and Bone Marrow Transplant specialist. McCaul met with Rob and Kristin that night and began the process of treating her acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

The speed at which life moves in the face of a health crisis can move in a positive direction as well, Kristin said.

“Within two weeks of the diagnosis, we found a donor, and we couldn’t have done it without Dr. Kelly – he is the best. The whole team here at the Prairie Center – they are all amazing,” she said. “We had considered traveling to a cancer center in Houston (Texas) or the Mayo Clinic. But we didn’t need to go hours away. Now my babies can come visit me here.”

With five children ranging in age from 11 to 1½, the scary reality of this possibly life-threatening disease was eased by staying closer to home, she said. A small army of care contributors sprung up almost overnight to help the family with appointments, meals and other necessities as well.

The Be The Match program operated by the National Marrow Donor Program helped find three potential donors that met the narrow match window that she needed.

“This isn’t a story about us, it’s about those three people – they were willing to do a cheek swab and donate,” Kristin said. “That’s the main thing we want to tell people – there are others like me who need help – so please! Learn more about bone marrow donation and how you might be the person who can save a life.”

With her transplant date set for early April, Kristin and Rob keep praying, in thanks for the compassionate team that’s guiding them through this foreign, frightening reality, as well as for all those in their community and across the Midwest to fight back against this blood disease. She reminds others who face a sudden health challenge: hope is mighty.

“We are in the middle of the process, and we are so thankful for those people willing to donate, but it’s comforting to know this team is on our side, and they know what to do,” she said. “I hope through all of this. You know, you do ask ‘Why?’ but perhaps the reason why it happened to me was that so some good could come out of this, and people will read this story and be the match for someone else. A simple thing like that could save a life.”

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