Archive for Wednesday, December 26, 2001

BHS graduate gets some much needed help from his brother

December 26, 2001

It hasn't been an easy year for Bruce Chambers.

In fact, it hasn't been an easy year for his family, either.

But things are starting to look a little better thanks to the help of a brother.

This summer, Chambers, a 1972 Baldwin High School graduate, was diagnosed with leukemia, just one month after his oldest brother, Ron, died from heart problems.

"When he was home for Ron's funeral, he was talking about how tired he was," Bruce's mother, Charlotte Chambers, said. "We just thought it was jet lag."

After the funeral, Baldwin resident Charlotte Chambers said her son flew back to his home and job with a construction company in Ketchkan, Alaska.

"A month later, Bruce became very ill," she said. "He had to be life flighted to Seattle, Wash.

"Liz (Bruce's wife) called me on that Friday night and said Bruce is very sick," she said. "At 6:30 the next morning, Bruce called me and said, 'Mom, they're looking at leukemia.' That night he called and said it was definitely leukemia."

Charlotte said when he called her she was shocked.

"It was just unbelievable," she said. "I didn't know what to think. We were still coping with Ron and when Bruce came up, that was almost too much."

She said Bruce underwent both radiation and chemotherapy.

"I went out to see him when he was taking chemotherapy and he was very, very sick," Charlotte said. "When he was on chemotherapy, I wasn't prepared for what I saw.

"I had just never been around anybody with leukemia before," she said. "It's a pretty devastating thing."

She said when the radiation and chemotherapy didn't work, doctors said Bruce needed to have a stem cell transplant from one of his three remaining siblings.

"Rick ended up being a perfect match," she said.

To begin the transplant process, Charlotte said doctors injected hormones into Rick's blood and built stem cells in his system over a period of time.

On Oct. 9, doctors drew blood from Rick for four hours and transferred it into Bruce's system.

"His body is still working with Rick's blood. It's got to get used to it," she said. "But with the medications he takes to destroy the leukemia, Rick's new blood takes over."

Without the transplant from his brother, Charlotte said Bruce wouldn't have lived.

"We just think Rick saved his life. He was a miracle," she said. "Even the doctors were amazed it worked so well."

But Bruce still has some recovering to do. Even though he's out of the hospital, Charlotte said he must stay in Seattle near the hospital so he can return to the lab twice a week.

"He's got a long ways to go," she said. "He's still on IVs and he's still on medication. He does not have an immune system yet. From what I understand, he'll have to be taking medication the rest of his life."

She said battling the leukemia has been hard on Bruce because he was so active. In high school, he participated on the football, basketball and track teams.

"Of all my children, he was the most active," Charlotte said. "He wanted to do as much in his lifetime as he could and right now, it's all come to a halt. It's a pretty sad story."

She said Bruce has received a lot of support from family and friends, which has helped.

"There have been many, many prayer chains working all over the country," Charlotte said. "He thinks he wouldn't have made it without them."

A lot of Bruce's support comes from Baldwin, including former Baldwin High football coach Merle Venable.

"When I first found out about Bruce I was devastated," Venable said.

Venable was Bruce's high school football coach.

"I was very fortunate to have coached a young man like him," he said. "He's liked by everyone. I have never seen him ever, in the years I've know him, be unkind to anyone. He has a tremendous sense of humor and a wonderful smile.

"I've never seen any better guy," he said. "I'm just very fortunate to have been his high school coach, very lucky."

To help with Bruce's medical expenses, $100 raffle tickets have been sold both in Baldwin and Ketchkan to benefit the cancer fund, which Venable has helped sell.

"People have been very kind about donating to the raffle operation," he said. "It's amazing."

But he said he was pleased he could help.

"I'm just thankful he's getting better," Venable said.

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