Raleigh doctor credits his son for helping him fight leukemia
A noted local leader in medicine shares his story as a leukemia patient -- and how his happy ending involved bravery and hard work by his own son.Posted — Updated
Two years ago, Dr. David Zaas, President of Duke-Raleigh Hospital, tried to figure out his own symptoms. "In hindsight, I was feeling sick probably for about 4 to 6 weeks before," Zaas said. "[I experienced] shortness of breath and difficulty exercising and started to develop a skin rash."
Tests led to a diagnosis of acute myeloid leukemia, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow.
Zaas has a background in pulmonary and critical care and worked with transplant patients. He said his Duke team helped him get the treatment he needed. "I think you're still shocked by the diagnosis -- even as a physician who is comfortable in the health care setting," Zaas said.
His oldest son, Jake, remembers hearing the news. He was 15 at the time.
Jake wanted to help, and he got his chance serving as a bone marrow donor for his dad. "The first time I heard it, I knew I wanted to do it," Jake said. "I wanted to help and I didn't even know what the procedure was."
"He really stepped up and did everything that we could ask -- and more," Zaas said, explaining the value of Using Jake's immune system to help fight off and eradicate any leukemia that was left.
Within 60 days, Zaas had a normal blood count, returned home and went back to work. Jake's contribution continued in a fundraising campaign for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) called Students of the Year.
He was the 2019 winner for the Triangle area.
"We were really fortunate to announce Jake raising over $200,000 -- and the campaign total this year was over $600,000, said Jamie Teague from LLS.
Since 2017, there have been 45 approved blood cancer treatments, and LLS had a hand in 41 of those treatments, according to Teague. The money supports the best cancer researchers across the country -- including Duke, UNC and the Atrium Health Foundation.
For the Zaas family, it's a mission. "I think this whole journey for our family has really helped us to say, you know, we are really fortunate," Zaas said. "How can we ensure others have the same outcome?"
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