Fighting to be with his daughter - and winning

Al Rodriguez is overjoyed that his dream of living with his daughter has come true.

While playing softball in 2005, Al Rodriguez, now 38, felt a troubling pain in his shoulder. He promised himself that if his team won the game, he would continue to play, but if they lost, he would get it checked out. The team lost — and Mr. Rodriguez began his fight with cancer.

At Forest Hills Hospital, doctors discovered immature blast cells. That day, Mr. Rodriguez was taken to North Shore University Hospital (NSUH). In May 2006, he underwent a bone marrow transplant with his own cells to treat his acute myeloid leukemia (AML).

But five years later, the AML returned. Mr. Rodriguez was comforted by Ruthee-Lu Bayer, MD, director of North Shore University Hospital’s Don Monti Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplantation Program. He recalls her saying, “I love you. We’re going to get through this.” In May 2006, he underwent a bone marrow transplant with his own cells to treat his acute myeloid leukemia (AML).

In January 2011, Mr. Rodriguez received his second bone marrow transplant, this time with stem cells from his half-sister.

“Throughout everything, he stayed strong with the thought that he had no choice but to get better so that he would be around for his daughter,” said Dr. Bayer. “He spoke to me daily while in the hospital, no matter how he was feeling.”

Mr. Rodriguez’s daughter stayed with her mother in Florida during his treatment. She was not even a year old when Mr. Rodriguez was first diagnosed with AML; he missed her first birthday because of his treatments. Last year, during his recovery, Mr. Rodriguez flew to Florida to spend Thanksgiving with his daughter.

“From day one, Al had a positive outlook and was determined to beat his disease,” Dr. Bayer said.

Reflecting on his ability to recover so well, Mr. Rodriguez said, “I had a good attitude and a good supporting cast,” adding that everyone from the North Shore University Hospital environmental services staff to his physicians was wonderful to him. A hospital volunteer even read him the newspaper as he recovered.

Now, two years after his last bone marrow transplant, Mr. Rodriguez is again participating in the sports that he enjoys, including softball, martial arts and running. But more importantly, he can take care of his daughter. Mr. Rodriguez enjoys bringing her to school and is grateful to his mother and aunt for their help with doing her hair — one area of his daughter’s care that he hasn’t mastered yet. He also spent Thanksgiving 2012 in New York with his daughter and family.

“We are thrilled that Al’s dream of living with his daughter is coming true,” Dr. Bayer said. “It has been an honor and a privilege to care for such a great person.


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