“A Conversation with Mr. O’Cconor”
When I read the story about Mr. O’Connor’s battle with Meseothelioma , an aggressive form of cancer caused by asbestos, I knew immediately that he would look into my eyes and tell me, “don’t give up and you will have someone who will make a profound impact on your life.” My dad worked in construction as a laborer until his death from an accident at a construction site when I was 14. He developed Asthma as an adult and looking back, I wonder if it was something more. When my husband was on Active Duty and we lived in California, the Enlisted Housing on the “old” Fort Ord was to be destroyed according to new EPA standards because they contained asbestos material. Most people though are unaware that asbestos was a substance used by the Ancient Greeks mainly as a source of fabric for various uses. They recognized its dangers and discontinued its use; but somehow when the product became one that could be easily used for profit, the risk became negligible to human life. The primary medical conditions associated with asbestos are pleural effusion: excess fluid builds up between the pleural space which is the area between the lungs and the chest wall; asbestosis, the lung tissue is scarred and those who smoke increase their risk for lung cancer and finally Meseothelima which is cancer of the pleura. When researching some of the information on the exact types of cancers caused by asbestos I found a quote by Dr. Leo Buscaglia “Too often we often underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment or the smallest act of caring, all of which have potential to turn life around”. My name is Angela Lunn. I was diagnosed with an incurable immune deficiency in 2004. It took them 5 years to diagnose my disease. My fight had only begun. I poured myself into research to find out as much as I could about my illness, the genetic components to it, the standard treatment, what long term risk did I have; for example, I immediately became more susceptible to colon cancer, lymphoma and leukemia. I could also expect to have a shorter life expectancy. I also learned that because I had a Chromosome differentiation that I was probably not a candidate for a bone marrow transplant. I wanted to hear it for myself. I met with the transplant team at University of Alabama of Birmingham where my researcher worked. They told me that if they killed my immune system to begin the transplant, it would kill me. Bacteria that existed that existed in a normal environment were not my only enemy. The bacteria that my body normally had that everyone has would be life threatening to me. I knew more about the Immune System than most medical students I was told on many occasions. I spoke on the topic of the Immune System and how it works to the students in an Immunology class at Athens State University. It amazed me and the professor that I knew more information about how the Immune System than he did as an instructor. I also worked with the researcher who discovered my illness to help me when I knew as the patient that something had changed. I was never wrong. When I began to get more frequent infections and more rare infections, he discovered that my antibodies and those I received from the Gamma Globulin were adhering to my lymphocytes at only about a 25% rate. This meant that they had to increase how much Gamma Globulin I was getting and how often. I worked with the Oncology Physician and his Physician Assistant to find the best protocol for me to receive Gammunex-this is the brand name for a type of Gamma Globulin. I had to stand my ground on many occasions when I was the square peg for the round hole. My body would only tolerate Gammunex. The Gamma Globulin had to be infused at a much slower rate than other patients. It took a very personally designed protocol to give me the Gamma Globulin. All of these things caused the Physicians to question whether or not it was beneficial for me to receive Gamma Globulin. I once again turned to my researcher in Birmingham. At this point my illness had digressed so much that all my Immune Serums were below normal levels and I had developed Common Variable Immune Deficiency (CVID). My B-Cell Count barely existed and they suspected I had a tumor on my Thyoma Gland which is grand central for producing immune responses. He conceded that the only treatment for me was lifetime infusions of Gamma Globulin and antibiotics when I had a break through infection. This treatment doesn’t guarantee me anything. I was admitted to Banner Good Samaritan with a 105 degree fever. The treatment does allow me to continue my quest. It gives time that I would not have were it not for my treatments. Why does the quote by Dr. Buscaglia mean so much to me? Mr. O’Connor showed thousands of us who apply for a scholarship in his name, would see him exemplify Dr. Buscaglia’s words, “don’t underestimate the smallest act of caring, and its potential to turn life around” His choice to began this scholarship foundation gives me a chance to turn my life around in ways that perhaps I will never have again. Mr. O’Connor’s life mentored the idea that human life is valuable, whether you are sick or not, you deserve the opportunity to succeed; and for me that is my education. For all the things I have lost because of my illness, nothing compares to my ability to finish my education that was sacrificed with my husband’s service to our country. It is something I would gladly give up a thousand times over for all the soldier’s lives he has changed and saved through his research and development of the Army’s latest Blackhawk Helicopter. It gave pilots the ability to fly high into the mountains of Afghanistan safely and load and unload soldiers and equipment. You can’t compete for an education with the lives exchanged for that development. Unfortunately when my time came to return to school, I had become too sick to attend a traditional campus environment, for many reasons. I am a high risk for developing life threatening illnesses that would leave others untouched. I also must go to Mayo Hospital every 3 weeks for the rest of my life to receive lifesaving antibodies to protect me from bacteria that I can still get. The one thing that this illness has not taken from me is my passion for life and for learning. Is my education my only quest? No. It is one of many. I continue to look for answers in the field of Immunology. I continue to learn more about Immunology and how it works. I push my doctors to the limit in their ability to look for answers, provide better care and ultimately better quality of life. When my husband retired from Army, we moved to Phoenix. I am now receiving treatment from the Mayo Clinic and Hospital. This part of my life was always guided by my faith. It was no accident that the job offered to my husband was almost identical to the work he did in the Army and the best fit for him in terms of opportunity. That job was in Phoenix, Arizona. The Mayo Clinic is in Phoenix Arizona. Mayo has pushed the discovery rate of rare diseases to a new limit. They are exceedingly the most patient oriented facility I have ever been associated with. I was in the Mayo Hospital five times last year. I survived two blood clots in my lungs. They recently found a hole in my heart. You can stop living and wait to die or you can turn away from fear and embrace what the chance Mayo has given to me to change my life. One would certainly be curious about how they found a hole in my heart that I have had since birth, wouldn’t they? I had West Nile Virus, the second reported case in Arizona for 2009. My infectious disease physician was concerned that I was still getting headaches. He was concerned I had encephalitis due to my compromised immune system. I didn’t but thanks to Dr. Dodrick at Mayo, we found the source of my headaches and are able to prevent a stroke sure to happen due to the severity of the hole. Now God will guide another physician’s hands to fix the hole in my heart and prevent me from ever having a stroke. Life is a beautiful orchestra with an amazing composer!