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Tom has always been like an uncle to me. He is a long-time close friend of my father, who is also (conveniently) named Tom. In fact, the mountain is incomplete without the Three Toms: Tom A., Tom B., and Tom. C (#3). When my dad recently shared with me what Tom is going through, with a near-fatal disease, collateral heart damage, sudden job loss, and piling medical bills, I was compelled to reach out to ask for all of your help.
A year and a half ago, Tom was an active skier, hiker, and Masters ski racer. His wife, children, and new grandbaby were his world, and all an active part of his sports. He was in a two-decade long leadership and management role in a retail store.
What started out as difficulty breathing in June 2018 turned into a one-week hospital stay in November 2019. In an extremely unexpected turn of events, he was diagnosed with acute heart failure (not knowing what was really wrong). After a blackout episode, the EMTs diagnosed v-fib, the doctor performed surgery to implant a defibrillator pacemaker. During surgery, they restarted Tom’s heart three times, but he made it out unscathed.
Not surprising to Tom’s character, he continued to try and work. Expected to walk 12+ miles a day in a fast-paced environment, he ultimately was unable to meet expectations due to dizzy spells, balance issues, and blackouts on shift. He was sent home on medical leave in January 2020, and unable to return to his job. Due to the forced isolation at home because of Covid-19, he has been completely unable to see a single friend or family member, even under social distancing guidelines.
Tom’s health journey in the past several months has been wrought with severe pain, lengthy doctor visits, countless trips to the emergency room, misdiagnoses, and uncertainty. In truth, it has sounded more excruciating and graphic than I could ever put into words. Following one visit, Tom was ordered a biopsy due to debilitating lower G.I. pain. The doctor’s biopsy revealed need for a second bone marrow biopsy, to verify an ultimate diagnosis of a rare form of cancer called amyloidosis. This resulted in an amyloid that caused heart scarring, liver swelling, and G.I. issues. If not for this crucial biopsy follow-up, Tom may not have been with us any longer due to the terminal nature of this illness.
Thankfully, Stanford Medical has since been brought on board in an advisory role, and is working with Amyloid experts to advise local doctors on cardiovascular treatment, chemo treatment, and liver health. Tom has since begun chemotherapy, dropping from 180 lbs. to 145 lbs. After two weeks of chemo, he is finally starting to eat again, after being unable to eat well for weeks.
He is finally feeling stronger due to a regimen of isometric exercises, eating well, and working to get back to his energetic self. Although he will never get back the amyloid damage that was done, the hope is that the chemotherapy will kill off the bone marrow in order to stop producing the protein that has been ultimately trying to take over his body.
The financial burden has been crushing, from the partial preview I have been given thus far. And truth be told, I would imagine Tom to be far too selfless and independent to ask for help on his own. But from what I now know, these are a few of the financial figures Tom is facing, all while unemployed due to inability to work in his 20-year retail management job:
-Weekly copayments of $275, four times monthly, for the next ten months
-$1000 in prescription medicine costs in the past year
-$3000 in medical expenses
-$1000 hospital stay
-$3500 anticipated costs with insurance bills and chemotherapy
In talking directly with Tom several times, his gratitude and humility has been overwhelming at the thought of having help. He described his wife Annette as having saved his life on multiple occasions, who has been an incredible support along with his sister Nancy. He recently shared that he has a positive prognosis, although has no idea yet what kind of lifestyle he will be able to live in the future. He said that he will be happy again just to be able to be useful around the house, available to friends, maybe hike, and dream of skiing again. “At least I’m cooking again!” he told us recently. Always with the positive attitude, and never without a sense of humor. That's Tom for you.
I hope you will consider contributing to Tom’s journey back to health, and help him through these incredibly sudden and difficult times. Please share this with as many people as you can, and let’s rally together for Tom's health this holiday season!
- Carrie Vestbie
- Mary Jordan
- Philip Robbins
- Jordana Rivera
Organizer and beneficiary
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