December 6, 2022 at 4:33 p.m.

A second birthday

A second birthday
A second birthday

By Ben Sonnek- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

Judes battles cancer, benefit planned Dec. 10

For Carl Judes of Meire Grove, the past year has been a long and often uphill battle with acute myeloid Leukemia. However, with the help of his wife, Sandy Judes, as well as healthcare professionals, family, friends and a German stem cell donor, it looks as if he will soon be pulling through with a new blood system.

Carl, though, does not consider his struggle to have been any more special than those of other people who are going through cancer.

“Everybody’s got their own journey and everyone’s journey is different,” Carl said. “Ours has had several roadblocks.”

Because Carl and Sandy have not been able to work for months, a benefit is being held for them Saturday, Dec. 10, at 4 p.m. at the Greenwald Pub in Greenwald.

Carl, a native of the Sauk Centre area, started feeling unwell around Christmas 2021, and his condition worsened when the family caught COVID-19 the following January.

“They all came out of it, and I didn’t,” Carl said. “I started asking questions and going to a doctor more, and then we finally started getting blood tests.”

The blood tests revealed Carl’s hemoglobin level was at six, the normal level being 13. He was given blood but had a bad reaction to it that hospitalized him in the spring. At that point, the doctors realized he had something more than just lingering COVID-19.

Carl was referred to an oncologist in St. Cloud who did a bone marrow biopsy which, on April 11, revealed that Carl had Acute Myeloid Leukemia. The cancer also had a P53 mutation, affecting his red blood cells’ ability to transport oxygen and iron.

“His red blood cells wouldn’t fully mature,” Sandy said. “They basically came out of the marrow and didn’t know what to do, which would cause the low hemoglobin and other things.”

Right after the diagnosis, Carl was put on blood and platelets before being sent home, but he got sick and ended up in the emergency room at the CentraCare-Melrose Hospital. He later had chemotherapy in Melrose and St. Cloud, but after several treatments, he was hospitalized again for 46 days.

Because of the cancer’s mutation, Carl’s only option to become cancer-free was a stem cell transplant, a procedure that can only be done if the cancer patient is in remission. To get there, Carl needed two different kinds of chemotherapy in St. Cloud, the first of which did not work. Fortunately, the other treatment plan got him on the path to remission, and another set put him there formally.

Then, Carl went through, a worldwide organization which tests and matches marrow donors with patients.

“Obviously, they want to find you a familial match first – a brother or sister could be a perfect match – but they have to be younger than 65,” Sandy said. “Carl happened to be the youngest in his family, and he was 63, so his brothers wouldn’t work. Our children would only be a 50% match. If they couldn’t find a full match, they could go to the children, but the best option was to try to find that donor through”

On Aug. 11, Carl and Sandy’s 43rd wedding anniversary, Carl did end up with a 100% match: a 29-year-old female donor from Germany.

The stem cells were collected in Germany and brought to Minnesota by a bone marrow transplant team while Carl prepared for the procedure. The transplant happened Sept. 23 at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

“They call it another birthday,” Sandy said. “That’s the date we’re given new life, the new stem cells.”

Carl got to hold the two bags of stem cells prior to the transplant. According to him and other members of the transplant team, they have a creamed-corn kind of smell.

After the transplant, Carl had to stay within 20 minutes of the University of Minnesota hospital for 100 days. Fortunately, there is a nearby Hope Lodge that allows patients like Carl to stay for free, which they consider to be a godsend. Carl must have a caregiver with him at all times, so Sandy has been helping him and has not been able to work at her job at Jennie-O in Melrose.

The Judes are over halfway through the 100 days so far, and their estimated departure date is Jan. 1, 2023. However, that could change based on Carl’s health. At the moment, his doctors are working on getting a parasitic infection under control.

“The 100 days is a guideline. It’s a numbers game,” Carl said. “If your numbers are up and everything’s looking good, sometimes you can get out a little early, and if they’re not looking good, sometimes you stay a little longer. I thought for sure I was going to buzz right through this, and then I got this infection, and that set me back a couple of weeks.”

For the time being, Carl cannot leave the Hope Lodge. He and Sandy have been watching many Hallmark movies, and Sandy can go out and get groceries, if necessary, but she has to be careful to not accidentally bring any pathogens back with her.

“It’s one of those things that you don’t realize how little of a bug can knock you flat,” Carl said. “I’ve got little white blood cells that can fight, but they don’t have the experience.”

To help Carl’s immune system get disease-fighting experience, Carl will need to retake his vaccinations, although he will not be able to take live vaccines for about a year while his immune system returns.

“I’m basically starting over,” Carl said. “I have a one-and-a-half-year-old grandson. He and I are going to have a contest of who gets their shots first.”

Carl’s blood system will effectively return to normal after about a year, but it will result in drastic changes. For instance, he had an O positive blood type before, but because his stem cell donor was A positive, Carl will soon be A positive, as well.

The muscle depletion has also been tough to manage.

“It gets pretty bad when you have to ask your wife to open up a bottle of water for you,” Carl said.

In spite of this, Carl and Sandy are grateful to have come as far as they have. While they do not have a perfect guarantee of success, they are glad to have significantly better chances than they had at the beginning of the year.

“This whole stem cell transplant, it’s a gift,” Sandy said. “You’ve been handed the gift of life from a donor, someone you’ll never meet. It’s another chance at life, and thank goodness for the donor program.”

The benefit at the Greenwald Pub is being organized by Kayla Bueckers and Carol and Joe Tabbatt, with the assistance of Crystle Miller, Becki Marthaler, Heidi Leach and Shawn Judes. Carl and Sandy will not be able to attend in person, but they hope to get in contact via videochat.

“It’s been wonderful,” Sandy said. “We’ve had so much outpouring of support from friends and family. We’re so appreciative of everything.”

Carl tears up when he thinks about the support he has had along his rocky cancer journey.

“All the people who have supported us in so many ways or donated to the benefit, you can’t thank them enough,” Carl said.


You must login to comment.


Top Stories

Today's Edition