Dr. Judah Folkman

Glynnis and Dr. Folkman

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In April 1991, when my daughter, Glynnis, was 6 months old we discovered that she had a tumor stretching from the base of her skull to the middle of her chest. It had invaded her spinal column, surrounded her carotid artery and her jugular vein but what was of most immediate concern was that her throat was 99% compressed by the mass. Because of this compression, when she slept and her muscles relaxed, the tiny bit of remaining airway also relaxed and collapsed on itself and her breathing stopped. This happened, in her first sleep study, 648 times in 8 hours of sleeping. Sleeping was the most dangerous thing she could do. She needed 24 hour monitoring.

She was hospitalized and the doctors argued about what sort of tumor she had and what should be done about it. We were not confident of the treatments proposed because the doctors were not confident either. So we began to look elsewhere for help. We found Dr. Judah Folkman at Boston Children’s Hospital and felt that he was our best hope. Dr Folkman had been treating children with “alarming” hemangiomas (benign but possibly life-threatening and rapidly growing infantile tumors) with Alph-Interfuron in his efforts to prove his theories of anti-angiogenesis in treating cancer. Our daughter, Glynnis, was deemed a good candidate for the study, if she did, in fact, have a hemangioma. We had arrived in the research unit and were waiting for the doctor. Glynnis was sitting on my lap. I held her hands and she tipped back upside down giggling and I pulled her back up, not once but over and over. Dr. Folkman came in in the middle of our game and watched from across the room. He announced that her tumor must be hemangioma or she would not have been able to play this game. His confidence, calm and compassion assured us immediately that after 2 months, we had found the right place for our daughter. We began daily injections of Alph-interfuron and within 4 months, Glynnis no longer stopped breathing. For her first birthday we were able to dispense with monitors at night and her night nurse was no longer needed. At nine months of treatment her tumor was a tiny fraction of what it had been when we began the treatment. Glynnis was the 26th child treated with Alpha-Interfuron. The year she was born was the first year children like her had this course of treatment available to them.

Judah Folkman collapsed and died in January 2008, in the Denver airport on his way to speak about his theories for curing cancer. Since our good fortune to have met him he had become an icon in the field of cancer research. At his funeral we learned that he had not only worked tirelessly to cure cancer for 40 years, he had also developed, among many other things the first implantable pacemaker, cure for macular degeneration and Norplant.

We always felt as though Glynnis was a very special patient to Dr. Folkman. In spite of the people clamoring for his time and attention, he always gave us so much of his time when we telephoned or came for an appointment. One day, several years after her treatment had ended Glynnis came for a follow-up visit but was not scheduled to see Dr. Folkman. We asked if we could see him and were told that he was about to speak at a conference but that we might find him if we hurried. We went to the auditorium and found him in the lobby surrounded by a crowd of doctors. He saw 5 year old Glynnis and excused himself from the crowd and told them to ask the people in the auditorium to please wait that he had to take care of a very famous patient. He accompanied us to a visit with a Dr. Mulligan, another of Glynnis' physicians at Children's, and spent half an hour with Glynnis before returning to the conference. Since then, I have been told that everyone who knew Dr. Folkman felt that they were his favorite. It was not just his considerable medical gifts that made him so extraordinary, it was his humanity. He listened. He was always curious about anyone’s questions, never talked down to anyone and was a tireless and persistent researcher. We were so fortunate to have Dr. Folkman care for our daughter and so blessed to have known this extraordinary man.

To find out more about Dr. Folkman you can visit the following link:
http://www.childrenshospital.org/cfapps/research/data_admin/Site2580/mainpageS2580P0.html

Jean McGavin, Connecticut, USA 2008

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