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David Erin Gendron 1976-1999David Erin Gendron
1976 - 1999

"If heaven has auto repair,
David is running the shop."


David and his mother, Karen,  were members
of the Totally Hip Support Group.
This web site is dedicated to his memory.


David's blood counts began to drift down in the summer of 1998 and it became obvious that the antithymocyte globlin therapy was failing.  A bone marrow transplant would be his only remaining option.

In September,  after finding a 10 for 10 donor match,  Fred Hutchinson staff was elated.  David's transplant would go well,  they predicted.  After all,   he was still in myelodysplasia,  acute myelocytic leukemia had not appeared,   even though there were a very few blasts seen in his blood.

They were right.  David sailed through the chemotherapy,  continuing to eat in spite of the mucositis.  Out of the hospital in a near-record 18 days,  he was the best of the best.

At home he continued to do well,  developing just enough graft-versus-host disease to let the docs know that the marrow was grafting,  but not enough to make him miserable.

For two weeks we all sailed on clouds of euphoria.  After years of prednisone therapy that destroyed a hip with avascular necrosis,  leading to a total hip replacement in 1997 (age 20),  the ATG therapy in 1994 that seemed to work,  but did not,  it looked like a cure was at hand.

Then,  on day 28 post-transplant,  the sky fell down.  David was called emergently back to the hospital.  Somehow,  he had relapsed into the acute myelocytic leukemia that he had not had going into transplant.  How could this be?   The docs don't know,  but without immediate chemotherapy,  he could be dead within 14 days. 

Again,  he surprised the docs,  surviving this next bout of chemo with few side effects.  His sheer determination seemed to prevent them.

Because this second chemo could harm the fragile new marrow,  they said that once he was in remission for 12 months,  a repeat transplant could be done,  and that this time they would also do the total body irradiation that David's protocol had not called for the first time.  They also went back to the donor and obtained a lymphocyte donation,  the theory being that those lymphocytes would see the cancer cells,  as well as David's old marrow that was coming back,  as the enemy and kill them.  But,  they also told him that that therapy rarely worked,  but it was worth a shot.

For 33 days his blood was 'clean'.  He hadn't any working marrow left either through, so was surviving on transfusions of platelets and red blood cells and multiple antibiotics.  Then again, a panic phone call.  Blasts again filled the microscope field.

Another round of chemo (in the first week of February).  This time he was only given about a 10% chance of surviving all seven days.  Again, he did.

As before,  once he was free from the hospital,  he went back to working on fixing up his truck.  "It's called living,"  he told them,   when they were horrified that he wasn't spending all his time sitting in the house staring in at his disease.

Friends started to go to Seattle to visit,  he saw all his best friends at least once.  The transfusions and antibiotics continues, and David continued to live fairly comfortably.  he and his father,  who had seen little of each other since David was three,  got to know and love each other.  Many hours they spent discussing things automotive,  watching blood and guts movies and just plain talking.

March 1,  Vic and Claudia,  David's other mother,  begin to sense a change in him.  He is spending more time in his room, and work on the truck has slowed to a near halt.  he is talking less to me too,  just keeps telling me how tired he is,  how tired he is of fighting.  He has Vanco-resistant enterococcus and C.  diff and is starting to have a lot of abdominal pain.  He is also coughing a lot at night,  and running a fever.  But,  his blood cultures keep coming back negative,  they can't figure it out.

His mouth breaks out in herpes zoster,  now it is getting painful to eat.   For the first time,  he has them start supplemental hyperalimentation.   He can't eat and drink enough to keep up.

A second transplant is now his only chance, but only a 1% chance at that.   "I'll take it,  mom,"  he tells

But,  he continues to withdraw.

Monday, March 15, Claudia finds him on the floor in his room,   nonresponsive,  "thrashing and screaming and bleeding from his mouth."  (In retrospect,  it was a grand mal seizure,  brought on by hypoxia from aspiration.)  I rush to Seattle.

In the hospital his heart rate is in the 130's,  respiratory rate 30 to 60 and his entire body is rigid.  The only response to touch is a further tensing and the extending and rotating out of his arms.

CT, MRI, lumbar puncture,  all negative.  Chest x-ray only shows infiltrates in the bases.

By Tuesday his body is relaxed,  but his neuro status has worsened,   now he is totally nonresponsive to stimuli.  A morning chest x-ray shows a collapsed right upper lobe,  and discrete nodules,  probably aspergillus,   we're told.  His kidneys have shut down,  probably from rhabdomyolysis from the seizures.

When he first went into the hospital,  David signed no intubation and no code papers.  This made the staff crazy,  but he did not want to be kept alive unless his recovery could be complete.

It was decision time.  The outlook was bleak,  the neurologist had confirmed my first gut feeling,  that the sudden neuro collapse was due to hypoxia.

We stopped all treatment but comfort measures.  I told David good night on Tuesday,  March 16,  and told him we would see him in the morning.  I then told his nurse I didn't think anything would happen overnight.

Typical David,  he proved me wrong.  About 1 a.m.,  Wednesday, March 17, he slipped away.

Now his father, step-parents, and I are trying to understand why he had to suffer so for 10 long years.  He as a good kid,  honest and straight,  and would give anybody the shirt off his back if they needed it.  All he wanted to do was become a really good auto mechanic.

I miss him.  We had a party to celebrate his life,  he would have hated a funeral.  Friends came,  and wrote out their favorite David memories.

On Sunday morning,  March 28,  in the midst of a blinding snowstorm,   his father and I scattered his ashes into the river where he had loved to swim.   Cremated with him was the purple suit,  the one he had custom made to wear to a friend's wedding on September 9,  his last party before going to Seattle on September 15,  where he started the process at the Hutch on September 17.  His transplant was October 17,  and he died on March 17.  Funny, huh?

The picture was taken the day of Rob and Sara's wedding,  with David standing by the truck he had finally found and bought after years of searching.

The world looks different to me now.  I know David would not want any of us to be sad,  but it's hard not to be.

One day at a time...


I am secure in the knowledge that David is in a better place because he told me.   On the last two days in the hospital (the only two except for the transplant time and one week of inpatient chemo) I asked David if he would let me know if where he went was good, even though he was unconscious and showed no type of response to any kind of stimuli.  (I knew better than to tell him to let me know if he was okay, he'd always rebelled against that..."I'll be fine, mom!" [You know how THAT goes.])

We came home the day after he died, all arrangements had been made and I needed to be in my home.  The following morning I awoke early, for the first time in weeks not in tears, but instead with a feeling of overpowering joy, not happiness, but joy.   Because it was so early, I decided to go out in the hot tub.  There is a big apple tree next to the deck where I have several bird feeders.  The birds where busy stuffing themselves, and I just sat in the water, watching them and enjoying this new feeling of peace and joy.  A flock of birds flew over me and I looked up to watch them.

Now, it was a clear, sunny, morning, around 5:30, with blue skies.  When I looked up, the sky seemed to be covered with a layer of water, it sort of shimmered.   Then, it seemed that David's face was looking down at me, filling the sky and smiling with this look of pure happiness.  Stunned, I looked away, doubting my sanity.  Then, I looked up again, and this shimmery, translucent, vision was still there.  Twice more it was there, then gone.  Again my tears flowed, but this time tears of joy.  He told me, no, he SHOWED me, that where he is is good.

I still cry, but less often, and not with the same feelings of despair, but more just with missing him, and that will probably never pass, and that's okay.

Karen Buck..... David's mom


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