Leukemia patient Dominick, 15, will get rare chance to thank his BMT donor

May 4, 2016 | by Letisia Marquez

Jeanelle Folbrecht had a feeling in her heart – the kind that a mother gets – when she found out that a 13-year-old boy was battling leukemia alone in a City of Hope hospital room.
 
A City of Hope doctor had referred Dominick to Jeanelle, a City of Hope psychologist, for possible counseling because he didn’t have a family to take care of him. 
 
After reviewing his case and talking to those providing care for him, I realized he didn't need a psychologist,” Jeanelle said. “He needed a mom.”
 
Domick Folbrecht and entire family Kevin (l), Dominick, Kyle (back row), Jeanelle, Eric Folbrecht (r)
Jeanelle, along with her husband, Eric, and two sons, Kevin, 13, and Kyle, 16, had been contemplating adoption for some time, particularly after Jeanelle and Eric attended a concert by Christian singer Steven Curtis Chapman. 
 
At the concert, Chapman spoke about three daughters who he and his wife had adopted, and how one of the daughters had died in a car accident. The singer reminded concertgoers that many children worldwide don’t have families to raise them – through no fault of their own – and encouraged the audience to open their hearts and homes to adoption.
 
Months later, Jeanelle told her husband and two sons that there was a boy at the hospital who needed a home.  
 
“I had told myself, ‘If adoption is meant to be, God will have to drop a child in our laps,’” Jeanelle, 49, said. “And now, here was this young man who needed a family.”
 
Dominick had faced serious health challenges early on, as well as an unstable family life. He was first diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 2010 when he was just 9 years old.
 
Dominick was treated and went into remission, but the cancer returned in late 2014. 
 
Before Jeanelle decided to make Dominick a part of her family, she wanted to make sure that it was ethical for a psychologist to adopt a patient. 
 
“I wanted to make sure I wasn’t crossing any boundaries,” she said. “Could I still work at City of Hope if I decided to do this?”
 
She consulted with the California Board of Psychology and members of the legal and ethical teams at City of Hope. Although Jeanelle had received a referral to treat Dominick, the boy was not her patient. Colleagues agreed that as long as her roles as a psychologist and the mother of a City of Hope patient remained separate, she could take Dominick into her home. 
 
“They were both encouraging and touched by Dominick’s need,” Jeanelle added. 
 
Dominick went to live with the Folbrechts in October 2014. The first few weeks weren’t easy. He was shy and gave one-word answers. But Jeanelle and Eric slowly gained his trust. Kevin and Kyle befriended him, and soon, Dominick and Kevin became inseparable.
 
In January 2015, Dominick received a bone marrow transplant from an unrelated donor. 
 
For nearly two months – while Dominick remained in the hospital – Jeanelle and Eric took turns by his side. 
 
“I remember the first time I went back to that room – where we had spent six weeks with Dominick – to care for another patient,” Jeanelle said. “I wasn’t sure what to expect. But being a mom who has been through the transplant process has made me more effective because I understand a lot better what parents are going through.”
 
Dominick loves to play such sports as football and track, so his hospital stays were particularly difficult. 
 
“It was boring, and I was sick a lot,” Dominick said.  
 
“He went through a lot when he was in the hospital, especially with the chemotherapy,” Eric said. “He would get dizzy and nauseous but he always maintained a positive spirit.” 
 
In April 2015, Dominick left the hospital. Within weeks, his doctor, Joseph Rosenthal, M.D., chair of City of Hope’s Department of Pediatrics, gradually begin adding sports activities to his daily life. His first request: was to jump on the Folbrechts’ trampoline. 
 
Last summer, Dominick joined the Folbrechts’ sons at surfing camp. A few weeks later, the family also traveled to Denver so Dominick could attend football camp with his favorite player, Demariyus Thomas, a wide receiver with Denver Broncos, the current Super Bowl champions.
 
During a recent interview, Dominick smiled as he displayed photos he had taken with Thomas at the camp and a private lunch. He recounted how meeting Thomas was what he chose as his Make-A-Wish experience.
 
There is another person that Dominick has also wanted to meet, and that’s the donor who gave him a second chance at life. On May 6, Dominick will meet that donor and have the opportunity to thank the person at City of Hope’s 40th Annual Bone Marrow Transplant Reunion.
 
“I appreciate you helping me by giving me bone marrow, and helping me get back to my normal life,” Dominick said about his donor. 
 
Jeanelle said she wants to tell the donor that she cried the day she found out that a donor had been found for Dominick. Since Dominick didn’t have any family members that could get tested for a possible bone marrow match, the Folbrechts pinned their hopes on the kindness of strangers who register to be donors.
 
These days, the Folbrecht home is a bit crazy. There are three teenage boys growing up in it, and the sounds of teenagers running and laughing – as well as video games – are a constant. It’s not uncommon for Jeanelle and Eric to hear Dominick and Kevin laughing and talking in their room when it’s already past their bedtime.  
 
But Jeanelle said she wouldn’t have it any other way. The family has embraced Dominick, and even though he is still in the process of being adopted, they have insisted that he use their last name.
 
“Dominick has taught us that the challenge of opening our home and hearts to another in need is far outweighed by the love that is shared,” Jeanelle said. “Dominick has touched the hearts of so many this year: nurses, doctors, teachers and mentors through his positive attitude and persistent spirit. He personifies the statement, ‘Never give up!’”
 
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If you are looking for a second opinion or consultation about your treatment, request an appointment online or contact us at 800-826-HOPE. Please visit Making Your First Appointment for more information.

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