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It’s so strange to think back in time when our lives were so very different and our son Matt wasn’t diagnosed with ALL (Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia). Matt was always big for his age, always off the doctor’s charts for height and weight and very healthy. He was an avid bowler, fun kid with lots of friends. Our biggest hurdle was an occasional flu or cold and yes, he did break his leg using a skateboard. Who would have thought in our wildest dreams what challenges lay ahead of us soon after his incredible Bar Mitzvah and thirteenth birthday.
In the Spring of 2003, we lived in North Carolina - Matt hadn’t been feeling well, was sleeping a lot, pale and had headaches. I took him to a special headache clinic recommended for migraines. Eventually we had to take Matt to the ER because he was so sick. They took blood work and found out his hemoglobin was very low and started transfusions. They didn't know exactly what was wrong and referred us to an oncologist at Chapel Hill Hospital, where in June of 2003 we got the devastating diagnosis of ALL. Matt’s grandfather had passed away from CML six years prior.
Matt suffered so many complications from the aggressive protocol that it made the chemotherapy treatments very difficult. He developed a lung clot, pancreatitis 19 times, avascular necrosis (AVN), fevers, hepatitis, septic shock, shingles, mucositis and diabetes to name a few. Through it all, Matt's infectious smile was always on his face and he was always quick with a joke or a sports update. When he was out of the hospital he did everything he loved from amusement parks, to WWE Wrestling and movies. Plus, he was the biggest NY Giants and NY Mets fan ever! Even if he didn't feel well, he was passionate about the things that meant the most to him.
Matt's sister Rachel had just graduated high school at the time of his diagnosis. She took on the role every caring, devoted and loving sister would. Her college was an hour and a half from the hospital, so just about every time Matt was admitted, she came to visit. She always made a huge effort to be with him as much as she could. When he was in intensive care for his lung clot, she slept on the floor staying close to him for many nights. Their relationship was so very special and treasured.
Upon completion of his chemotherapy treatment in 2006, Matt was truly able to move on with his life. He missed a lot of time during his teenage years and couldn't wait to tackle just about anything. He graduated high school in 2008, which was a huge accomplishment considering how much school he missed. Right after graduation he had a Whipple Procedure, which re-routed his digestive system and removed part of his pancreas that had given him so much trouble. For the first time in many years he had no medical interruptions. Matt got his driver’s license and was employed part time at a local movie theatre, which was the perfect job for him. He was also able to join a bowling league and due to the hip coring and grafting he had in 2004, his highest score was a 278!
Matt was always a very social guy and during his time in treatment at the Voorhees CHOP Clinic, he met Max Levine. We moved to New Jersey in 2004 to be closer to family and CHOP. They became fast friends both enjoying movies, video games and South Park. They always were laughing and spent many terrific times together, never letting their illnesses get in the way. They had great mutual respect for each other and Max even came to CHOP to visit Matt and kept him giggling with their own private jokes. They worked many Alex's Lemonade Stands and when Max lost his battle with neuroblastoma in April of 2008, the Max Levine Fund for Neuroblastoma was created by his family. Matt was very much involved in Max's Fund to honor his best friend.
Devastatingly, Matt relapsed in September of 2009 and passed away at home surrounded by our family in March of 2010. Before he passed, Matt asked if he too could have a fund through Alex's Lemonade like his best friend Max. Our families collaborated and formed the M&M Fund for High Risk Pediatric Cancer Research to honor both our sons.
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Thank you so much for your support!
Hospitals where Matt received care:
- Chapel Hill Hospital- Chapel Hill, NC
- Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
- Hospital University of Pennsylvania
Written by Cindy Schechter, Matt’s Mother
Updated December 2011
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