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A Song for Avromi

Margie Pensak

Chaya Bruria Sachs was starting a successful career as the founder of the renowned Shira Girls’ Choir when her son Avromi was born with a rare form of cancer. Doctors said that her newborn had six months to live. She shared with Family First how she survived the ups and downs of his short life, plus the steps she took to build a happy family again.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

When Chaya Bruria Sachs saw the congenital growth under her newborn son’s arm, she didn’t know if she should be alarmed. The doctors reassured her and her husband, Dovid, that it was probably a hemangioma, a large birth mark that usually disappears completely by eighteen months of age. They told the couple not to worry — one day, they said, there wouldn’t even be a trace of the mark.

But the infant’s pediatrician suspected that the growth might be cancerous. Just in case his hunch was correct, he sent the Sachs’ son Avromi for a biopsy at Johns Hopkins Hospital in their hometown of Baltimore, Maryland.

The results were worse than expected: Avromi, just one month old, was diagnosed with rhabdoid, a rare form of cancer. At the time, which was twelve years ago, Avromi was one of only twenty-eight people in the world to have the disease. The Sachses were told that their baby wouldn’t survive past six months because the cancer had already metastasized.

“Don’t give him chemo,” the doctors advised. “Take him home and let him be happy. The chemo will just make him miserable and the cancer will come back whether chemo is given or not. Maybe it will extend his life another six months, at most.”

The Sachses were determined to prolong Avromi’s life, even if it was just for a short time. If I don’t try and do my hishtadlus, then for sure he won’t survive, thought Chaya Bruria. Once the Sachses decided on chemo, “We left the rest up to Hashem,” she says.

The Sachses proved the doctors wrong. Avromi was cured; the cancer never came back. He was the first known patient to survive rhabdoid, and his case was recorded in medical textbooks. He received nine months of aggressive chemotherapy treatments culminating with an autologous (a donation taken from the recipient) bone marrow transplant. Two months after the transplant, at the age of one, he underwent surgery and was declared in complete remission.

 

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