Challenge 1 – Theresa McQuown Diagnosed with AML Cancer
Director of Operations – Co-Owner
We rolled into 2013 under the dark cloud of cancer, to be specific AML cancer and one our own, Theresa McQuown co-owner of Villa La PAWS, was its target.
She was diagnosed with this cowardly disease in August of 2012 and her prognosis didn’t look promising and her options very limited. Her Oncologist said her only chance of living a year or more would be having a Bone Marrow Transplant performed.
The only cancer facility that her insurance would cover was the University of Arizona Cancer Center in Tucson AZ.
What’s Happened and also our Miracle?
Theresa received approval from the insurance company to have the Bone Marrow Transplant but it had to be done in Tucson at the University Medical center. This was really great news but being 120 miles away from her entire support network was going to be difficult.
She would be in Tucson for at least 4-6 months, in the hospital for about 2 months and then she would have to find temporary accommodations and live Tucson and report to the Cancer Center for treatment and observation for about 4 months. Her insurance didn’t cover the cost for her temporary accommodations in Tucson which was going to be a real financial burden.
To Help her, we decided to hold a fundraiser in November of 2012, raffles, silent auctions, donations, and planned on having a darn good party to boot. We were overwhelmed with the support of customers, friends, neighbors, businesses, animal rescue groups and our own great staff. Theresa was preparing to leave for Tucson in a week or so and she couldn’t attend because of her weak immune system from the preparatory Chemo treatments.
We had her attend the benefit via Skype and she had the opportunity to see over 500 people donate, bid on silent auction items, buy raffle tickets, etc. We raised over $5,000 that night.
There are so many people to thank but I have to give out a special thanks to Paul Horton, KPHO Channel 5’s Premiere Personality and his wife Jennifer along with Eileen Proctor, Entrepreneur Extraordinaire, who both co-hosted the event.
These two could coax a buck out of the IRS!
Theresa’s Sister Shirley was tested as a bone marrow donor and she was a perfect match. The Bone Marrow transplant was done December 20th and 21st. The procedure went great and all looked good until New Years Eve. Her vitals went bonkers and they couldn’t get them under control so she was transferred to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and put her in a medically induced coma. They got her vitals under control and inserted a breathing tube but they couldn’t’ get her to come out of the coma.
After 5 days in the coma and some of her vitals again staring to deteriorate they told us that we had better contact her immediate family and advise them of the situation and that her condition is worsening.
We were being given updates on her condition almost daily and we were posting these on a Fund Raising website, on Facebook and also our website/blog. We asked for prayers and good thoughts daily. The outpouring again was amazing, hundreds of people responded sending her these good thoughts and prayers that no medication, procedure or science could give her.
She had 4 teams of doctors that would see her daily, respiratory, kidney, physical therapy and Oncology. The University Medical Center is a teaching hospital so when the individual teams visited it looked like a Mama duck and her ducklings that would all crowd into her room and discuss her condition almost in a class room setting. The head duck would give his/her diagnosis and then ask the ducklings to give their thoughts. When they were done, the head duck would give us their findings and what they were going to do next or try to do.
A number of these ducklings (interns) would stop by all day long on their own time to see how she was doing! She had become the ICU Rock Star defying all medical logic why she was still fighting and hanging on.
Her primary doctor and lead Oncologist is Dr. Catherine Azar. We could do a whole article on this amazing and remarkable woman who has a bed side manner of a drill sergeant and a no bullshit manner of patient care. She has an assistant Ann Peterson, RN who is very adept at applying the emotional bandages after a visit from hurricane Catherine. Under that gruff persona is a heart of gold. She is surrounded each and every day with very sick people that have put their future in her hands and she fights for them and she expects her patients to fight just as hard as she does.
About 20 days into her coma, Dr Azar pulled Tom Murray aside and said, “You and I are the ONLY ones in this hospital that believes she will make it, don’t you dare give up on her”! Her angel had spoken!
She continued in this state for over 30 days and it was like a roller coaster ride that we were all on as her condition changed almost daily, critical to stable to something else that no one knew what or why it was happening which elicited doctors just shrugging their shoulders and shaking their heads.
A crucial time had come about 30 days into her coma, they had tried to remove the breathing tube earlier and she couldn’t breathe on her own so they had to reinsert it with much difficulty. They had to get her off the artificial breathing and when her vitals were right they were going to attempt to remove it and see if she could breathe on her own, if she couldn’t they had a surgical team ready to perform a tracheotomy.
It was a Friday afternoon and they called us in Phoenix and told us that with our permission they were going to try to remove the breathing tube and the surgical team was ready if she couldn’t breathe on her on. We asked if they could wait until we got there and they said no, they needed to do it now. They said if they called in the next 45 minutes that would mean it went well and she was breathing on her own. If it was longer than that, we could assume they had to perform the tracheotomy.
Thirty minutes after the initial call they called, success, she was breathing on her own. This was the first major victory that she had won since her transplant and the start of the long journey back.
She was still in a coma and around the 30th day, Jayne Haines, our Grooming Manager at Shea, was visiting her, holding her hand and talking to her and Theresa opened her eyes and spoke to her. Jayne called later that day and just mentioned that Theresa had opened her eyes and spoke to her, kind of like it was no big deal. We all went crazy, called the ICU and talked to her nurse and yup she was talking and responding to commands.
Tom left Phoenix at 4:00 am next day and got to the ICU at about 5:30. As he rounded the corner and could see her room, she saw him, smiled and just said Hi.
As we said before, her journey back had started and it wasn’t a smooth road, a number of setbacks, re-admissions to the hospital, continuous IVs, a stay at a rehabilitation center and a ton of medications.
The Villa La PAWS staff was and still is remarkable in their support. With Theresa out of the picture for over 8 months they all stepped up to help run the business.
Her courage and determination was and is remarkable. She returned home to Phoenix in April with weekly visits back to the Cancer Center in Tucson. Then she went to every other week and fast forward to today and she travels to the Cancer Center every two months.
She had her 1 year anniversary of her bone marrow transplant in Tucson on December 18th, where she went through a bone marrow biopsy and a battery of tests to see if the transplant had worked. They called her later in the week to let her know that her cancer was in complete remission.
She is back to work full time as our Director of Operations. Her recovery from a medical standpoint is remarkable and still baffles the medical experts except for Dr Azar, she always believed.
Theresa is our MIRACLE, and we truly believe YOU made it happen. Tom said, “I’m not an overly religious guy but I do believe that there is a God and he heard the prayers and good thoughts that YOU sent to Theresa convincing God to give a requested reprieve since her job wasn’t done here.
The power of prayer will never be recognized by the scientific community as having any impact on a patient’s recovery but there are some top doctors in Tucson that do believe!
We have said that we will have a big party to thank everyone and celebrate life for Theresa and we will. Stay tuned for a date and time.