Every morning, Jacob Adashek wakes up and looks at a card set atop his dresser from the man who saved his life — a man he doesn't even know.
"I look at it every day," Jacob said. " He is a very special person to me. We are 'blood brothers.' I have his DNA in my body because his blood pumps through my veins."
Last weekend marked the one-year anniversary of the worst day of Jacob's life. He had a lesion on his lip and a blood test revealed abnormal results. It turned out to be a leukemic lesion and from that point on, the hospital kept him captive.
For three months the leukemia hammered away at his body while relatives, friends and even strangers rallied for his cause. Then in August, a near miracle happened. A man in The resulting bone marrow transplant gave the young medical student from Nicolet High School a new opportunity to resume his own dreams of a career in the study of — what else? — blood.
The fight for life
Following his diagnosis last May, Jacob was sent straight to the emergency room for a bone marrow biopsy.
"That was an experience in itself, screwing a metal straw into your back hip and sucking out the marrow for analysis," Jacob said. The results came back positive for leukemia and he was admitted to the hospital right away. For the next 26 days, Jacob fought appendicitis and a 103-degree fever and lost 40 pounds.
From that point on, it was a waiting game to find a bone marrow match — the only way to save Jacob's life. Friends from his alma mater banded together and created a Help Jacob Facebook page. Hundreds of young adults completed a cheek swab test and mailed it in to see if they would be a match for Jacob, adding new possibilities to the donor pool for not only Jacob, but others in need of bone marrow transplants.
"What (close friend) Jacob Levey, my sister, parents, and many others did for me was something that I will never forget and will always be indebted to them for," Jacob said. "Growing up in a somewhat small community of the North Shore, I think I was a person that people recognized at least around my neighborhood. But I never expected the amount of support from so many members of the community and even those that I had minimal, to no contact with. It really shows you that this world is filled with amazing people who do care."
It was a day last summer when Jacob's mom, Debbie Adashek, took a phone call in the car. A perfect bone marrow donor for Jacob had been found, a man in Israel.
"She had to pull the car over because she was so overjoyed,” Jacob said. “It was a feeling of relief. It was when I knew I was going to be OK and that my team had a cure and that he was my cure."
While Jacob and his donor are not allowed to meet until one year after the transplant in September, Jacob sent his donor a card and just a few months ago, received a card in return.
"Receiving a card from my donor was unbelievable," Jacob said. "To know that not only this person across the world (in Israel) was willing to give me some of himself (in his bone marrow), but also write to me and eventually meet me has made this experience that much richer."
Their connection is spiritual as well as physical.
"It has made me that much more religious and him being from Israel is such an honor," he said. "I've always supported the Israelis; they lead the world in medical innovation, are the only Democratic nation of the Middle East. But this just fuels my fire that much more."
Following a dream
For the next few months following the transplant, Jacob endured an incredibly strict diet and an even stricter schedule. He would take 16 pills with breakfast, another 12 with dinner and have daily blood tests to closely monitor his health. And amid all the pills, tests and strict diet, he continued taking classes to become a hematologist.
Jacob was accepted to medical school as a senior at Nicolet. He volunteered at the Intensive Care Unit at Aurora Sinai in Milwaukee at 15 years old and spent more than 2,100 hours there. He also spent a week in Chicago at Rush Hospital with a thorasic surgeon who he still keeps in touch with today.
"I knew that I wanted to be a doctor and I knew what I had to do to become one," Jacob said. "A lot of kids say they want to be this or that, but don't understand what you have to do to get there, so it means nothing. I was never that way."
He was one of six students accepted into a special, seven-year program that leads to a bachelor’s degree from Pitzer College in San Diego and a doctor of osteopathic medicine degree from Western University of Health Sciences. His career goal is to become a hematologist — one who studies the blood.
A long road to recovery
Today, Jacob says he is feeling OK, but each day is a challenge and he has to be aware of his limitations. But most of all, he wants to share his gratitude with those that have helped him through this, most specifically, the nurses.
"These people are under-appreciated, but are monumental in patient care and success. Without them I don't think I'd be here today," Jacob said. "Unfortunately, two patients that I became close to recently didn't make it. But for me to know that they were being looked after by such selfless, amazing people puts me somewhat at ease. This process is far from easy and there is no one except a bone marrow transplant patient that can understand what we go through, but the compassion and understanding that these nurses have eases the stresses and can make things a lot smoother."